Growing up in the American Southwest, Hispanic culture influenced our area heavily. In fact, the foreign language of choice in schools was Spanish. As with the acquisition of any language, it helped to immerse oneself in the culture. Therefore, many in the United States became familiar with bullfighting, or rather its Latin version. Korean Bullfighting dates back more than 1000 years and involves none of the glitz, glamour, or gore of its namesake. Think of Korean Bullfighting as bull wrestling.
The sport evolved from farming games, where landowners would square their large beasts of burden off against one another to see who was strongest. Today, male bulls are raised as competitors and train several years before ever entering a competition. When they do, they are a force to be reckoned with, as some of these powerful animals weigh over 1000kg (2,200 pounds).
To see the event first hand, I traveled to Cheongdo, a small city just south of Daegu. Here, they hold an annual competition to see who has the best fighting bull in Korea. The prize money will earn the trainer a little extra pocket money, but more importantly, bragging rights over others. The competition is hosted in a specially designed stadium holding thousands of spectators each spring. Between matches there are a wide variety of musical acts and activities for attendees, so if you want to see something different you’ll get that opportunity.
Some matches last for minutes (and sometimes hours), while others mere seconds. The premise is simple: the strongest (both mentally and physically) prevails. Each competing bull is led into the arena. They stop and dig into the soil; their eyes glance around becoming familiar with combat area. Then, their trainers lead them together and the two bulls literally lock horns.
Korean bullfighting matches do require significant skill on both the part of the trainer and bull. Here are some of the most common techniques:
• Pushing: It’s a basic technique, pushing with all the bull’s strength. It requires enormous strength and endurance.
• Head Striking: The most common attacking technique.
• Neck Striking: A skillful attack to stab at the opponent’s neck.
• Side Striking (Belly Strike): A decisive strike, usually resulting in a win.
• Horn Hanging: An aggressive attack, used to press or raise the opponent’s horns.
• Horn Striking: Hitting the opponent’s horn and shaking it left and right.
• Hanging and Striking: The attacking bull uses the hanging technique on the opponent’s neck. An experienced maneuver.
• Repeated Striking: Continuous striking. Used to show power and ultimately leads to victory.
The 2011 Cheongdo Bullfighting festival has come to a close, but will be back next year bigger than ever. Organizers are also advertising regular matches beginning September 2011. This event is not for everyone, but for those that enjoy the power and beauty of wrestling mixed with boxing, this is the sport for you.
Official Website (Korean): http://www.청도소싸움.kr/
Admission varies for matches, call for details.
- From Seoul Station, take a train to Cheongdo station (5:50am~ 8:15pm, 20 trains daily / est. travel time of 4hrs 20min).
- From Cheongdo Station, cross the street to the bus stop and take a city bus going to Punggak. Get off at the Chilseong 3-way Junction (Samgeori) Bus Stop (departs every 20min / est. travel time of 15~20min).
- Buses are also available to Daegu from Nambu Bus Terminal. Once there, transfer to another bus to Cheongdo.