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Waltzing a Half-Ton Bull Around Is His Idea of Fun

September 11, 1986|PATRICK MOTT

Lyn Sherwood's idea of a good time is to plunk down nearly $1,000 and buy a 500-pound deadly animal that will, for about 20 minutes, try its best to kill him.

As part of this fun, Sherwood has had a handful of teeth knocked out, torn the ligaments in one knee, been variously battered and bruised and has suffered a large puncture wound in his groin.

He's been doing it for almost 30 years. But, he says, in October he will enter the ring and kill an animal for the last time as an aficionado practico --an amateur bullfighter.

Sherwood, 48, who operates a one-man advertising and public relations agency out of his home in San Juan Capistrano, has been fighting bulls since he first stepped into a ring in Spain in 1956. Since then, he says, he has killed nearly 40 bulls in Spain and Mexico and become thoroughly absorbed in the life of the bullfighter as the editor and publisher of Clarin (Spanish for "clarion" or "trumpeter"), a magazine that he claims is the only one in the world devoted to the art of the matador. Other bullfighting publications throughout the world, he said, are published in newspaper format.

By his own reckoning, when he retires from the ring next month, Sherwood will reduce the amateur bullfighter population of the United States by slightly less than 9%. There are, he says, perhaps a dozen men in the country who currently are willing to--and regularly do--go sword-to-horn with a quarter-ton fighting bull for no pay whatever.

(There are, Sherwood said, three active professional American matadors: David Renk of Houston, Diego O'Bolger of Tuscon and Raquel Martinez of San Diego.)

But, Sherwood said, age and, to some extent, economics have caught up with him. With advancing years, he said, comes a lessened sense of timing, technique and grace, which in the bullring can be fatal. And, he added, amateurs are obliged to pay for the bull they fight and kill. The cost, he said, is nearly $1,000, which entitles the bullfighter to only fight the bull, not take home the meat after the animal is butchered.

Illegal in U.S.

Also, bullfighting to the death, in which the bull's horns are not blunted and the animal is killed, is illegal in the United States. Both amateur and professional bullfighters must fight in Mexico.

Sherwood does not fit the classic image of a matador--lean and muscled.

Bearded and balding, with short limbs and a round face, Sherwood stands 5 feet, 8 inches tall and admits to being 20 pounds overweight.

Nonetheless, he said, he learned quickly how to face down and kill an angry fighting bull soon after he became fascinated by the matadors of Spain.

In 1956 Sherwood was attending Long Beach City College on a business scholarship and was "bored out of my mind," he said. His father, an engineer, had just taken a job working on a project in Spain, and Sherwood decided to follow him and take a job there as a warehouseman.

Watching the Spanish matadors, Sherwood said he became more and more enthusiastic and eventually joined the ranks of the aficionados--true devotees of bullfighting.

Finally, he said, he decided to learn the torero's--the bullfighter's--trade himself.

"You go out to the ranches where they breed the bulls and you learn there," he said. "You watch and you try to mimic what the others are doing," Sherwood said. "After a while, if you're lucky someone who really knows what he's doing will teach you. But you get your head kicked in while you're learning. While I was there, I learned a lot partly because I was a novelty. I was a Yankee."

Killed His First Bull

On Easter Sunday, 1956, Sherwood killed his first bull in the ring in Spain. Six months later, in another performance, he was awarded an ear, a token given to a bullfighter who has shown particular skill against a bull.

"I was 18 then, and I thought I was immortal," Sherwood said. "And the bulls--they were merely animals. I was enjoying the glory of it."

During the next year in Spain, however, reality struck hard. Sherwood was gored in the groin and the wound, he said, became badly infected.

"I gave away my suit of lights and went right back to college in Long Beach," he said.

After studying journalism and broadcasting, Sherwood held various jobs at Southern California radio and television stations during the 1960s and continued to attend bullfights and associate himself closely with the matador's life. But he did not enter the ring again until 1969, when he "fought a yearling cow at Tecate and it chased me all around the ring. I was terrified."

The courage to fight returned gradually, he said.

"I continued to fight when I could--although terrified--and then I started listening to a self-hypnosis tape about an hour before I'd go into the ring," he said. "It didn't really take away the fear, but it helped my concentration."

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