August 8, 2003

Bullfight World
By Lyn Sherwood

An Aging Torero Looks for One More Opportunity

A half century ago, in another world and another time, this reporter saw his first corrida de toros, in Zaragoza, Spain, and was totally captured by the pageantry of La Fiesta Nacional and the artistry that the toreros demonstrated. With the help of future matadores Fermín Murillo and Juan Garcia “Mondeño”, I began training and I loved it. I worked the ranches, facing animals in tientas. I worked in tiny pueblos, with other aspiring novilleros, in makeshift plazas de toros that were formed by putting wagons in a circle, with bulls from nondescript ranches. Sometimes, the only available medical assistant was provided by an inebriated veterinarian.

One afternoon, I placed banderillas for Philadelphia-born novillero John Fulton Short. A month after that --only six months after beginning my training-- I debuted as an aspirante, in a novillada sin caballos in Zaragoza and was lucky enough to cut an ear.

In 1969, Lyn Sherwood made his debut as an aficionado práctico in Tijuana, performing with a vaquilla. Here, he offers an “Arrucina,” a very difficult pass, invented by Carlos Arruza.

As a maletilla, I continued to train and to torear in the pueblos, while continuing my job with a construction company that was building a military air base. At 18, I was young and stupid, too ignorant to be afraid. After all, the bulls were merely animals, while I was almost a man.

At the end of my contract with the construction company, I determined to pursue bullfighting, full time, and moved to Madrid. I bought a used suit of lights, a couple of capes and muletas, and a rusty sword. In many ways, I was lucky. I had befriended Ernest Hemingway and traveled with him, for several months. It was great for me, because Don Ernesto (I never called him “Papa”) picked up all of the expenses. Of course, whenever Hemingway was present in the plaza, I dedicated my bull to him, which always ensured that I would get some press coverage. And, as gringo toreros were a novelty in Spain, I found many opportunities to torear. Of course, I rarely earned more than my gastos, and sometimes not even that much. Likewise, I had taken up bullfight photography, and that opened a few more doors to me. I hitchhiked a lot, and learned to enjoy sleeping in barns.

But, eventually, I was admitted to the union and granted the title of novillero. For the following two years, using the sobriquet “El Californiano,” I fought all over Spain and a couple of times in France, in all about 40 afternoons, sometimes with two bulls, other times with only one. I fought in makeshift, portable plazas de toros, sometimes in corrals, and other times in campo abierto. I had my good days and I had my bad ones. One day, I think that my bull died of boredom. I also suffered a few painful injuries, but no gorings. I was determined to become a Matador de Toros. I gained a certain amount of celebrity. A taurine reporter from the Newspaper, El Digame, began pressuring me to graduate to novilladas picadas, with picadors and much larger bulls. In retrospect, I should have spent another season in the sin caballos affairs.

But, in August of 1960, I worked in my first novillada picada, in Alagón, in the Province of Aragón. I didn’t cut ears, but I received strong applause. The, came another opportunity in Alagón, and I won my first ear as a full-fledged novillero. I was ecstatic!

A few weeks later, a novillada picada, featuring six young novil-leros, was scheduled in Logroño. But the day before the fight, one of the novilleros was injured, while training on a ranch. I was available on short notice, so, with the assistance of Fermín Murillo --who by then was a matador-- I got the nod. It would be my third novillada picada. The animals weighed in the neighborhood of 400 kilos.

I didn’t have an opportunity to accomplish. On the opening lance, the bull hit my left leg. I didn’t think that it was any big deal. But when I attempted to move forward for another lance, I discovered that my leg wouldn’t work, and there was blood all over the sand. “What the hell? Who’s bleeding?” I thought. I didn’t feel any pain. But, when the assistants picked my up and carried me toward the infirmary, the truth hit me. The damned bull had gored me! Later, I discovered that, although it was a comparatively minor goring, it was right under the left testicle. A little too close for comfort. And, by the next morning, I discovered what real pain was all about.

Several days later, I was released from the hospital and I returned to my apartment in Madrid. The em-presario from Logroño called me and offered me the opportunity to make my return in his plaza. So, three weeks later, still limping, I returned to Logroño. And, it was then and there that I discovered the ingredient that had been missing from my toreo: fear. Fear translates to respect. Suddenly, I was very respectful.

The afternoon was a total disaster. I received the three avisos and my bull was returned, alive, to the corrals. I was covered with rotten fruit and tomatoes that the crowd had thrown at me. The police had to escort me from the plaza.

Totally disgusted with myself, I returned to Madrid. I sold all of my trastos for peanuts, burned all of my photos and news clippings, and returned to Southern California, where I enrolled in college. My life as a torero was finished.

It was 1966. I was carrying a full schedule at Long Beach City College, where I majored in journalism and broadcasting. And, I attended the bullfights in Tijuana. I heard about a club, Los Muleteros, a group of aficionados prácticos, young men and women who fought animals of brave blood, just for the fun of it. They invited me to a practice function, at a bull ranch, hear Tecate. And, when one of them invited me to give it a try, I entered the ring and was eaten alive by an animal the size of a Great Dane.

But, present as a spectator, that day, was Nick Lewter, a hypno-therapist, who concentrated on working with athletes. One of his clients was boxer Jerry Quarry. I got to know Nick and I told him my story. Soon, I was going through Hypnotherapy sessions with him. He recorded an audio tape, to which I would later listen, before going into the ring. It didn’t take away my fear, but it gave me confidence in myself.

In the summer of 1969, I made my debut as an aficionado práctico in Tijuana, during a convention of the National Association of Taurine Clubs (USA), and won the trophy as the best toreros. That initiated an odyssey of 25 years, during which, I performed with other members of Los Muleteros, all over Mexico. Again, I had good days and I had those that I would soon forget. But, thanks to Nick Lewter’s audio tape, I was having a blast, fighting in Tijuana, Ensenada, Mexicali, Nogales, and other places that didn’t really have names. I had a great day in Nuevo Laredo, where I worked the second half of my faena with a sombrero, in place of the muleta, and cut two ears from a Las Golondrinas animal named “Chatito.”

Because of my friendship with the Renk family, I fought three times in Reynosa, and two of them were very good for me. But, the last time, some seven years ago, I totally ran out of steam and hand to turn my bull over by David Renk. After he killed the animal, I went to the center of the ring, lay my muleta, sword, and Cordobés hat on the ground saluted and walked away. I had retired forever from bullfighting.

The following month, I discovered what had gone wrong. I had a blocked corroded artery. I couldn’t get enough blood to my brain. Surgery was performed. I now have a piece of plastic shunt in my neck. At 60 years of age, I was through as a torero.

Over this past Independence Day weekend, Fred Renk invited about 100 friends to his ranch to celebrate his birthday. As part of the festivities, the Renks presented four vacas for his friends to torear in Plaza Santa Maria, a ring that he had built and in which he presents bloodless bullfights. When my turn came, I froze. I couldn’t enter the ring. I was terrified. I was so embarrassed that, rather than face the other celebrants, I drove home.

But, the next day, filled with remorse, I called Fred and asked him for a favor, to give me a puerta cerrada, in which I could face an animal in a private affair. I had to prove to myself whether I still possessed enough courage and talent to torear, or just stay retired.

The puerta cerrada was held, July 19. Assisted by Matador David Renk and a couple of others, I fought two vaquillas bravas. The next day, Fred wrote on the Internet “Lyn displayed valor with both capote and muleta to both animals. Though both vaquillas were toreadas (previously fought), it would seem that the success was totally due to Lyn’s ability to aguantar (hold his ground). He ran the hand nicely to both animals and accomplished several nice series on the right to the first and a complete faena with the second and was applauded. Olé Lyn!”

So, now comes another decision. This coming October, in Monterrey, the third annual convention of aficionados prácticos will be held. Amateur toreros from throughout the world will be competing. And, if I can raise the $1,000 for a bull, plus the gastos, before the Sept. 1 deadline, I want to participate. Can a 67-year-old torero still cut it? We’ll find out. In the meantime, I offer thanks any of my friends who want to donate a few bucks, to help me out.

Qué será, será.

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