Several times each week, martial arts teacher Ren Ruzhi enters a ring to spar with a bovine opponent about five times his weight and capable of killing him.
Ren’s mixing of martial arts and bullfighting worries his mother, but the 24-year-old has never been hurt.
Besides, grappling with a snorting bull is exciting, he said.
“It symbolizes the bravery of a man,” Ren told reporters in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province.
Unlike Spain’s more famous sport, the Chinese variant of bullfighting involves no swords or gore, but instead fuses the moves of wrestling with the skill and speed of martial arts to bring down beasts weighing up to 400kg.
“Spanish bullfighting is more like a performance or a show,” said Hua Yang, a 41-year-old enthusiast who watched a bullfight during a visit to Spain. “This [the Chinese variety] is truly a contest pitting a human’s strength against a bull. There are a lot of skills involved and it can be dangerous.”
The physically demanding sport requires fighters to train intensively and they typically have short careers, said Han Haihua, a former professional wrestler who coaches bullfighters at his Haihua Kung School in Jiaxing.
Han called the bullfighting style he teaches “the explosive power of hard qigong,” saying that it combines the skill and speed of martial arts with traditional wrestling techniques.
Typically, a fighter approaches the bull head on, grabs its horns and twists, turning its head until the bull topples over.
“What do I mean by explosive power?” Han asked. “In a flash! Pow! Concentrate all your power on one point. All of a sudden, in a flash, wrestle it to the ground.”
If the first fighter gets tired, another one can step into the ring, but they have just three minutes in which to wrestle the bull to the ground or lose the bout.
The bulls, too, are trained before entering the ring and learn how to spread their legs or find a corner to brace against being taken down, Han said.
“A bull can also think like a human, they are smart,” Han added.
Although he said that his bulls get better treatment than the animals involved in the Spanish sport, animal rights activists believe Chinese bullfighting is still painful for the animals and cruel as a form of entertainment.
“In Chinese bullfighting, we cannot deny the bulls experience pain,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokeswoman Layli Li said. “As long as it exists, that means there is suffering.”
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