in the cockpit

This is definitely my first time in a cockpit.  I would have preferred to be on an airplane cockpit, but unless I get really lucky and earn a flight badge, this “gallera” will do for now.

a fighting cock and its master waiting for a match

I stuck out like a sore thumb.  Everybody was staring at me – from one heavily tattooed guy to the next heavily tattooed guy.  Even the fighting cocks were eyeing me.  I thought about chickening out of this place, but then I would be insulting all those chicken brought here from all over town to provide this afternoon’s bloody entertainment.

fighting cocks weighed and measured before a match

This is the pre-match.  Owners compare their combatants and try to find a close equal to their cock to fight in the pit.  A match is called when both owners agree on the pairing and the amount wagered.

the cock's leg is prepped for the blade

Once the match is set, each cock is then armed with a blade tied to one of its legs.

blades come in different lengths to fit different heights of the fighting cocks

The blades come in many sizes, and they are rented out to the owners.  Should the cock win, the blade owner gets paid.  If the cock loses, the blade is simply returned.  Everything is a gamble.

the blade is tied to the leg of the cock

Tying up the blade requires skill.  This man has been at it for over 12 years.  The blades are kept very sharp, and there have been stories of handlers being disemboweled in the cockpit.

the cocks are agitated to get them into fighting mood

Feathers are ruffled before the fight.  Fighting cocks are provoked and agitated before the actual fight, just to make sure that it is in fighting form and will not turn tail.

hand signals from a "kristo", a person who matches all bets by the spectators

And that’s when the noise level goes up.  Suddenly everybody is shouting at the same time.  Bets are called and matched by the “kristo”.  It’s just amazing how they are able to track bets from many people all at once.  I’m not quite familiar with the hand gestures but that is possibly a P200 bet.

and this could be P30, or P300, or P3,000.

that’s the referee

The best seats in the house.  Very close to the action.  The glass needs cleaning, though.

the "doctor' stitches the wounded, both winners and losers

And eventually here is where most of the cocks end up – the chop shop.  P100 will have the cock stitched up and ready again in a few weeks.

This is really not for the faint-hearted.  There’s blood and feathers all around, and no anesthetic.  They may be chicken, but they’ve got a lot more chutzpah than some people.


I took care not to take photos of people who don’t want to be photographed.  I didn’t know anybody, and anyone just might have something to hide.  I have been asked by a big brawny fellow to take photos of some people sitting and a few others, and I quietly obliged without any intention of publishing them.  In situations like this, prudence is of the utmost importance.  I don’t think I will be coming back any time soon, if ever at all.  I’ve seen enough and having to be on guard all the time just sucked my creative juices dry.


29 thoughts on “in the cockpit

  1. These photos are very disturbing, especially the last couple photos of the bird being stitched up without anesthesia. I love that your photos portray real life situations – they are very moving, no matter how unpleasant…

    • I was foolish not to take along somebody who knows the territory and so I had to find friendly faces among those in the cockpit. Lesson learned, I hope. The shoot was a spur of the moment decision.

  2. Great write up and story. I would like to see some of the photos of the chickens fighting it out but still these are great images. I also find it interesting hearing about you mentioning that “all of your creative juices were sucked out”. That’s a great way to put it when you are nervous.

    • I totally lost all thoughts of shooting the actual cockfight; it was really unnerving. When I think about it now, I should have been safe while inside and should have taken my time.

  3. For a first timer in the cockpit, you did an excellent narration. Been to one last year, and with company of “high rollers.” without the intention to gamble, but more on the curiousity to see ‘cocks fighting’.. This trip I didn’t quite make it there, but lost 10,000 PHP bet:))) I do not know if I will also have a chance to go back, but at least I’ve seen it .” you see it once you see them all!” – this is illegal over here:) thank you for an excellent piece of work.

    • that’s a very expensive educational trip to the cockpit. Unless I get an assignment to do this again with accompanying safe passage, I don’t think I will be visiting any cockpits again. This was a regular Sunday fight; a 4-cock derby is very crowded (I’ve been told) and I can only imagine how stuffy it will be if the place is filled up. It was an experience, though. Now I know what it’s like.

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