Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Head Butts and Licking: Korean Bullfighting

There are no men in sparkling tight pants and pointy hats here.  There's no dance of the man versus the beast.  In Korea it's just hardcore bull on bull action.  Every Saturday in the medium sized city of Jinju, South Korea, bulls go at it in the Jinju Bullfighting Stadium.  Last month we decided to see what this Korean bullfighting was all about.

The first thing that I want to say is that a bull is a large animal.  In my experience I have only seen bulls on TV or from a car window while cruising past farms on the interstate.  When we arrived at the bullfighting stadium there were dozens of bulls hanging out in their respective pens on the side of the parking lot.  We decided to size up the competition and took a stroll down the line of bulls.  The first thing I noticed is that a bull is the size of a small truck.  I mean this literally because there were small trucks parked next to the pens and the bulls were the same size.  The bulls are also exploding with muscles.  The entire cast of the first Predator movie can fit all their muscles in to one bull.  A bull's head is the size of a keg of Pabst Blue Ribbon.  Then somebody (Jesus? Satan?) decided to stick sharp horns on top of all that strength and power.  I decided that a bull is a frightening animal, especially when you see one foaming at the mouth.  Then we pet one.
"Good bull.  Gooood bull."
The stadium is a pretty good size with a ring of dirt in the middle.  There was one section of about a hundred 50-60 year old men who were obviously throwing down money on their favorites.  We sat and waited until two men walked in to the ring pulling bulls by ropes wrapped around the ring in the bull's nose.  We didn't really know what to expect at this point except that bulls weren't probably going to hug.  The handlers pulled the bulls heads close to each other and the bulls immediately bumped skulls.  Then the handlers let the ropes go to let the bulls go at it.  What ensues is a lot of pushing and bashing heads between the two bulls.  The first round went on for a while and the match didn't end until one of the bulls threw in the towel, turned, and ran away. 
Place your bets.
 After watching several matches we pretty much understood how the operation worked.  First is that the whole thing is pleasantly humane.  As far as Korea goes these animals are well fed and well treated.  It's not a death match because it ends when one of the bulls decides enough is enough.  The handlers want them to fight but they don't force it.  There were several times when the handlers pulled the bulls' heads close to each other and the bulls weren't having any of it.  Once one of the bulls lovingly started licking the other bull on the face.  In these cases the match is called without a winner.  However, some of the bulls knew exactly what to do and went at it like a couple of gladiators.  So I would say that compared to their Spanish counterparts, the bulls that die a very stabby death, the Korean bulls have a pretty cushy life.  Go bulls!
The Lineup
Bring in the contestants.
Let them go!
Get it on!
Commence the head butting.


  1. !. What'd you do, choose the most docile-looking one and then stand as far back as you could while still "petting" it? Haha!
    2. I love how all of the spectators are sitting as high up in the stands as possible. Perhaps just in case the bulls get loose?
    3. It makes me happy to hear of such a relatively humane alternate to Spanish bullfighting. I had actually chosen, out of ignorance, not to go to the bullfighting festival here in Korea because I thought it would be inhumane. Now I know better. Thanks, Ryan!

  2. Haha, yeah I made sure I only touched the least imitating bull and I stood far away enough so he couldn't puncture a lung. Also, if you look the spectators are sitting so high up so they are out of the sun!