San Diego bullfighting school caters to adventurous Americans - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

San Diego bullfighting school caters to adventurous Americans

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SAN DIEGO, Calif.  (CBS 8) -- Professional bullfighting is popular in Mexico, but it is banned in the United States.

So you might be surprised to find out that there's a bullfighting school operating in San Diego. The school caters to adventure-seeking Americans who want to train in bullfighting without killing animals.

News 8's Shawn Styles traveled an hour south of Tecate, Mexico to Rancho Santa Alicia, where fighting bulls have been raised for generations.

Coleman Cooney is the owner of the California Academy of Tauromaquia, the bullfighting school based out of San Diego.

"We come to this ranch which has pedigree livestock, highly bred livestock. You can't just fight a cow in a pasture. You have to fight this special breed of Spanish blood bull," said Cooney.

Before students can set foot in a ring in Mexico, they have to go through training on the U.S. side of the border to gain a basic understanding of bullfighting techniques.

"We're hoping that they get into it because it is a fascinating pastime. It's a lifestyle. It's international; a lot of travel but a lot of training," said Cooney.

Animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) oppose bullfighting. They say it is animal cruelty; a blood sport that is illegal in several countries.

But as part of this bullfighting training class no animals were killed.

"These animals would not exist without bullfighting," said Cooney. "As soon as you ban it – and it will never be (completely) banned – the bulls will not exist anymore."

A full-grown fighting bull weighs in at more than 1,000 pounds. The training bull used in Cooney's class is only one year old, with smaller horns and less deadly.

"We take part in a Tientiero, or Tienta, which is a test of a younger animal for their breeding possibilities," said Cooney.

The training bull will never be used in a professional bullfight because after a few hours of charging a matador with a cape, the bull quickly learns to avoid the cape and attack the matador. The bulls killed in professional bullfights have never seen a cape, according to Cooney.

Over years of training, American bullfighting student Alex LeMay has learned to respect the animals.

"So, the thing about the breeding of these animals is they're bred to be dangerous to human beings," said LeMay. "They're fighting bulls. They're called Toro Bravo for a reason."

"Being out there is an absolute rush but also calming at the same time," LeMay said. "It's not like I'm an adrenaline junkie. This is what I do for fun."

Once students get in the ring with a bull, safety comes first. The student is surrounded by spotters who distract the bull in case the student gets hit and falls to the ground.

It's a nerve racking experience but nobody was injured in the class while News 8 cameras were on scene.

PETA issued the following statement to News 8:

"Bullfights—in which bulls are beaten, drugged, speared, stabbed, and weakened until, finally, a matador attempts to sever the exhausted animals' spines with a dagger—are not only cruel but also illegal in the U.S., so it's ludicrous that a U.S. school would teach people how to abuse and kill animals in other countries. The establishment of such a school is also backward, as international condemnation of bullfighting is growing: Argentina, Cuba, Italy, the U.K., and the Spanish region of Catalonia, among other cities and countries, have outlawed bullfighting, and Mexico City is poised to vote on the issue. PETA urges everyone to steer clear of this dying, archaic blood sport, whether as a student, an audience member, or the person holding the knife."

Cooney, the school owner, had a different take. He pointed out that following a professional bullfight, the animal's meat is used for beef.

"If I was to make a choice, if I wanted to be a beef calf slaughtered at 18 months old, living in a factory farm; or living the way these animals live in a pasture, hearing the birds sing, I'd take that," said Cooney.

Some of the footage used in this video report was shot using a GoPro camera.

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