An Interview with El Juli

Tristan Wood

El Juli’s visit to London for the CTL Anniversary Lunch seemed a good opportunity for an interview with the young phenomenon. On the morning of the Lunch, about an hour before it was due to start, we met in a bar at the hotel where Julián and his family were staying. I explained I would be asking him about his career to date and his approach towards toreo.

Clearly your father’s afición has been an important influence on your development as a torero, but what was your personal motivation at the point when you were a becerrista?

I think most of all the vocation of torero. Toreo was the thing which I was most attracted to and I had felt this since I was a young boy. That seemed to be the profession I aspired to most of all. There was never a drastic change in this feeling; this urge stayed with me and thanks to that I became a torero. It’s been a constant vocation.

In 1997, when you were 14 years old, the decision was taken to appear in Mexico as a novillero. How important was that season there for you?

I think it was the most important decision in my career as a novillero. I am grateful for it as it helped to make me what I am, and it was good for me to get to know a taurine country which is very rich in technical matters of toreo, for example in temple. It had a professional approach, through which people began to get to know me, and I had important triumphs there that were very helpful for the following temporada in Spain, as they gave me the opportunity to be seen in Spain by other people.

The next year, 1998, you burst upon the scene spectacularly in Spain and France. Your temporada was a measured one (53 novilladas and 15 corridas) and a great success. How did it feel to you at the time?

My temporada as a novillero was a very consistent one. I was very prepared and I had a strong desire to succeed. One triumph after another breeds success and this got me well known. One of my strong points was my variety with the capote, which was very popular with spectators. I had lots of triumphs that year.

I remember the second time I saw you – in Las Ventas with the six novillos. It was a very tense afternoon – a full plaza, a horrible wind, your various tossings and the goring of a peón. But, in the end, a triumph of will and of bravery, and two ears from a novillo of Alcurrucén.

Yes. To be honest, it was the first time I’d felt pressure from an audience, a sense of maximum responsibility and attention. September 13

th was difficult as it was a date outside of any feria, but nevertheless a notice of "No hay billetes" was posted. I felt pressure then, and have felt it more as a matador since. It was a brilliant day, one of my fondest memories, and to go out of the Puerta Grande at Las Ventas was wonderful.

In the next couple of years, you appeared in over 100 corridas a season. To appear in such numbers of corridas and triumph regularly, you need to be in good shape, both physically and mentally. What type of training do you do?

I do what all other toreros do to keep fit. Most of my training is done on the ranch. That’s where I learn most in front of animals and can best develop my technique. This is the basis of my training. When I’m not toreando, I live on the ranch most of the time and that has always been of benefit to me.

Mentally, I imagine that toreo de salón must help enormously.

Toreo de salón is basic training in as much as you are there with the muleta and it helps you perform more naturally when you are really toreando. Holding the muleta in the hand becomes an extension of yourself. Toreo de salón helps keep your wrists flexible. It’ s important: it doesn’t quite match up to being in front of a bull - that’s when you feel the real passion - but it helps.

2001 was another successful year. There were many triumphs, but you also experienced three cornadas – in Madrid, Málaga and one in the face in Bilbao. Do some cornadas weigh more heavily than others?

Well, no cornada is pleasant and they all have an impact, but in the three examples you have given the one that affected me most was the one in Málaga because I couldn’t figure out how it happened. I was toreando on my knees when the bull caught me. I wasn’t at ease when I was toreando on that occasion, but, for example, the ones in Madrid and Bilbao didn’t bother me much because I was aware that the cornadas came when I was performing honestly with the left hand and it’s at such times that these things can occur.

I recall your return corrida at San Sebastián de los Reyes after the Bilbao cornada and your initial kneeling verónicas. Your entrega that day was tremendous. Is the first corrida after a goring a particularly important occasion?

I think so, yes. You are conscious of the fact that you have been injured by a toro, so you are more apprehensive than normal. You’re very worried about not being fit, not being properly prepared and you are always aware of the fact that the public are watching you and they too are wondering whether you are fully recovered. But the sooner you face up to your responsibilities, the sooner you overcome your fears.

In 2002, you triumphed once more, especially in Bilbao and Pamplona. But the faena which was the most impressive and had most impact was the one with the bull ‘Desván’ in Vistalegre on the afternoon of Curro Vázquez’s farewell. Do you think that was your best faena to date?

I think that this faena was probably the one that most people have taken notice of. It made some people realize that I had artistic abilities that they had not recognized before. I also would also say that, in the first few years of your career, when you are young, as the triumphs come along, you learn more. It seems to me that this bull came along at the right place and at the right time and it inspired me.

I think this year (2003) has been more difficult for you. As occurs with all figuras, the public demanded a lot from you and some spectators – in Madrid, even in Bilbao – showed a certain coldness towards you. Does the disposition of a crowd affect a torero?

Yes it does. It has been quite a tricky year in a number of ways. There is always a factor in toreo where you need competition, and this year there have been some toreros who have been quite competitive – some from an older generation, some from a more recent one - but none with the same status that I have. Bit by bit as your career progresses, you notice other things in your life… the world of los toros is a magnificent world, and, although there are outside influences, nothing quite matches up to this world.

In each one of your encerronas this year – in Madrid, Santander, Linares and Zaragoza – the best faena came, as they say in football, "in the second half". The most impressive afternoon appeared to be in Zaragoza, where the bulls had good trapío and your lidia was masterly. For you, did each afternoon have its own distinctive nature?

I think the afternoon I achieved the most artistic success was in Madrid. It may have been the most satisfactory afternoon of my career and it could be quite difficult to repeat – the anticipation, the public, the bulls, the whole atmosphere. I was also very happy with the corrida at Zaragoza, a complete afternoon when I achieved a lot of things I was aiming for – toreo largo, toreo profundo, toreo artístico. It was a brave performance in which I tried to bring in all the qualities I am capable of. I’ve had a number of corridas with six bulls – two of them this year in first class plazas – and they motivate me a lot. Corridas with six bulls are very emotional affairs for many people. In the era of ‘Joselito El Gallo’, such corridas really put him on the map.

And the afternoons in Santander and Linares?

These are second class rings. Santander was a difficult afternoon with complicated animals. I was very preoccupied, but the last animal was satisfactory and I managed to achieve a triumph. And Linares was a less elegant afternoon, although I still managed to cut four ears; if you ignore the last bull, the corrida there wasn’t that special.

Which are your favourite ganaderías and why?

I don’t prefer any particular ganadería. I just like a bull which charges cleanly and strongly and follows the muleta well. There are, though, ganaderías whose animals come out better than others, and obviously it suits toreros to face these animals because most of their great triumphs come from them. At this particular moment, I like the Domecq encaste. They are decent animals, a very popular breed, better than most and perform with greater regularity and it’s the encaste which appears more often than the rest. But there are other ganaderías that I like too – for example, the bulls of santacoloma, with which I’ve had several successes. I’m not that fussy about individual ganaderías; what’s important is that it’s a ganadería that’s going through a good patch.

Let’s talk about your concept of the lidia. What do you set out to achieve in the first tercio?

I aim for a combination of variety and depth with the capote, just as you would with the muleta. The public likes variety, but to produce this you sometimes have to move away from profundity, which annoys me. Variety is not necessarily in conflict with profundity as long as you move the cape slowly.

And with the banderillas?

It may be that the banderillas are the least significant part of my repertoire. It’s a suerte I like to perform occasionally because I think I can do it better than anyone when I do it well. I find it easy to identify the bull’s terrains and querencias during this tercio – that is more important than the spectacle itself.

The bull can change a lot during those first two tercios.

I would love it if the bull had spirit for everything, but there are some bulls that are better and some that are worse through each tercio. You have to make the most of the qualities of each particular toro at any given time.

And what do you aim to achieve with the muleta?

With the muleta, I am at my happiest. I believe I can guide the bull wherever I want it to go. I feel relaxed. This is when you can torear most with your heart and your wrist. Those two facets form the basis of toreo.

With the sword, you have your own particular style – volcandose, with your feet off the ground. The estocada is a complicated suerte; is it a mix of technique and individual style?

I think for the estocada you need heart above all else. Sometimes the torero will enter to kill and make a hash of it, but for some reason the sword will enter correctly and he will get the right result. I do not try to eliminate the technical side, I try to enter correctly, but I still think the heart plays an important part. One of the main aspects of the kill is valour. Nevertheless, I keep trying to improve my technique.

This year, a lot of people – at least in Spain – have been talking about a crisis in the fiesta. Do you think this is the case? Are there changes in the fiesta you would like to see happen?

You could always improve the situation, but I think all this talk about crisis is basically untrue and it does the fiesta no good. I don’t know why people say this, or what compensation they get from it. I believe they have their own agenda, that it’s a totally false statement, and this is a point which all of us must make – the toreros, the ganaderos, the empresarios, the journalists, people who earn their living from the bulls. It’s a shame there are so many outside influences and interests that this talk of crisis seems to suit.

Now you are a Unión ganadero with ‘Toros de Táliga’, juanpedro animals. What hopes to you have for this presumably long-term project?

It’s a means for me to enjoy toreando with my friends and to use in training. At some point in the future, I will take on the responsibility of having a novillo lidiado by a novillero and hopefully it will come out good. I hope my life will be a long one and that I will have an important vacada that will bring triumph to toreros and which the afición will like.

As a matador, do you have plans in place for next season?

No. At present I don’t have an apoderado. Because of that everything is on hold just now. For the time being, I hope to enjoy my holidays, but, when the temporada starts, I will doubtless have a season in place.

We began this interview talking about your motivation as a becerrista. After five successive years as the acknowledged líder of the temporada, what motivates you now?

The truth is that I want to torear better than anyone else, slower than anyone else and to achieve the maximum that my life and God can give me. I’d like to be a torero de época, and this is what I am striving for.

Thank you, maestro.

(With thanks too to Ron Gordon for his invaluable help in translating El Juli’s answers to my questions – TW).

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