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Turlocks Portuguese suicide squad keeps old tradition alive
George Martins, Jr., of Turlock De Forcados, faces the bull as it comes around, hoping that once he secures the animals head, his teammates will be able to help subdue its rage. - photo by Photo Contributed

The Turlock De Forcados will be looking death in the face as they gear up for another year of traditional Portuguese bullfights at the Stevinson Pentecost Bull Fighting Arena and the Gustine BellaVista Park Arena. The group has previously appeared in Canada, Portugal, and other countries around the world.

Team Captain George Martins holds practice at Hilmar in his own arena to supervise the young men on his team and work on strategies for securing the bull. As a team, it is in their best interest to work together in close camaraderie, which is especially the case for Martins’ two sons George Jr. and Justin.

The boys began learning at a young age, and often practice at home.

“Our group is one of the younger groups,” said third year Forcados member Jake Martinez. “The youngest is our captain’s son, Justin Martins. He started when he was 15 years old, I believe.”

The bloodless bullfight has been a long standing tradition in Portugal since the 18th century and continues to shock bystanders as eight forcados (suicide squad) risk life and limb to celebrate their culute.

Most Portuguese bullfights are held in two stages, the first known as the cavaleiro, where a horseman fights the bull from horseback, placing javelins on the bull’s back in order to tire him before the suicide squad’s showdown.

The second stage focuses on the forcados, eight men who are determined to challenge the bull without weapons. They rely on one another as a team to keep themselves safe. One man stays in front, provoking the bull to charge in order to perform a face catch known as pega de cara. Once the bull’s head is secure, the team members step in to subdue the bull.

Just as in the Azores, the bullfighting spectacle reflects the Spanish tradition in Pamplona, where the humans are more at risk then the actual bulls. The Portuguese tradition has undergone changes throughout the years, and reconstructed to fit into modern views on animal cruelty.

Forcado front man Martinez doesn’t believe that it is the bulls who suffer most from the tradition, but the actual players.

“This is bloodless bullfighting, so the bulls are always very well taken care of in the ring. We use Velcro padding on the bull’s back and the horseman has a Velcro stick to stick behind the horns, so there’s no blood.”

However, Martinez can’t admit that blood hasn’t been spilt for his own team members.

“This is not the safest sport. I’ve seen people’s legs snapped in half, broken ribs, their knees explode. The bulls have leather sleeves over their horns, but I’ve seen people raked by the horns, and their ankles break while they were still holding on,” he said.

Traditionally, bullfights are about facing conflicts head-on and utilizing adrenaline to overcome odds without weakening under pressure. For most audience members, it is the spectacle.

 “People like to see people get thrown, but they also like to see people stop the bull. You have to be quick on your feet and you have to like an adrenaline rush,” Martinez said.

209 staff reporter