Kite Fighting

North American Style!

Perhaps you have heard of kite fighting, particularly in the context of Indian or Afghan flying. The latter was given a big publicity boost by the movie 'The Kite Runner' of course!

As I have touched on in other pages on this site, some traditional Asian contests involve the cutting of your opponent's string with gulp ... ground glass pasted onto the line!

Here at MBK, the nearest thing we have to a fighter kite design is the Dowel Rokkaku. The Rokkaku was originally a Japanese fighting kite concept, where kites were downed with flying lines intact.

Making The Dowel Rokkaku Kite is a printable e-book. It's a PDF file download.

But what about North America? Well, the sport has taken off there too. At first, it was mainly people copying the traditional types of fighting contests from Asia. However, a uniquely American kite fighting scene has developed since the late 1990s.

To sum up, here are some of the differences...

  • The kites are generally quite small, around 18" in height. With the curved cross spar and roughly square Diamond shape, the Indian influence is clear!
  • The kite sail often has 2 small battens attached near the tail end, defining a wedge-shaped area of sail.
  • Bridles with more than the traditional 2 legs are common, for smoother flight characteristics. I must admit this took me by surprise, since I have always associated complex bridles with much larger kites.
  • Modern materials predominate for both sails and spars, although split bamboo is sometimes used as well.
  • A 'line-touch' concept is the basis for competition, rather than line-cutting!

With these kites, the curved cross spar is often referred to as the bow and the vertical spar, the spine. Also, the sail is often referred to as the skin.

Instability is the key to controlling these kites, so they don't have tails. Pulling on some line tension causes the kite to fly in a straight line. At other times, it tends to fly around in tight circles!

Kite-fighting types like to think that their sport extends the flying to 3 dimensions. Well, I guess that's true when compared to sport kites.

However, I happen to think that thermaling with single-liners is a genuinely 3D affair too! With, for example, a big light-wind Rokkaku. At times you have no option but to pull down the kite almost to within arm's reach, before catching another gust, another patch of warm air, right up to 400 feet...

Oops, getting off-topic here ;-) Back to North American fighters...

Other traditional kite types are also the basis for inspiration. For example the Japanese Rokkaku. The American versions tend to be smaller, and use modern materials. Speaking of materials, here's a fairly comprehensive list of what can be used to create a modern fighter kite...

Spar Materials

  • carbon fiber rods
  • fiberglass rods
  • split bamboo

Sail Materials

  • rip-stop nylon
  • plastic sheet
  • mylar
  • orcon
  • gift wrap
  • clearphane
  • floral wrap films
  • cellane

Batten Materials

  • carbon fiber rods
  • fiberglass rods
  • coffee stirrer straws
  • drinking straws
  • split BBQ skewers
  • split bamboo

These kites are not really beginners projects, in the sense that they tend to use a variety of tools and techniques. Several hours of careful work is required to turn out a neatly and accurately made craft. Some designs make an attempt to simplify things for the beginner though, with a claimed build time of just 2 hours or so.

It's certainly true that the smaller the kite, the harder it is to get the dimensions accurate enough. Not being a great craftsman, that's one reason why I prefer big kites!

Kite Fighting In A Line-Touch Bout

The increasingly popular 'line-touch' form of competition is a real contrast to the traditional line-cutting scenario. For one thing, all the action happens on relatively short lines. Compare this to the kids in India or Afghanistan who fly their kites so high and far away that they are almost dots in the sky! Thousands of feet of line go out.

In a line-touch kite fighting, 2 competitors stand in 2 circles on the ground. When the call 'bottom' or 'top' is made, each flier attempts to touch his or her flying line with the other person's line. Supposing 'top' was called. In that case, the owner of the top line during the next touching of lines wins a point.

The aim, of course, is to gain more points than your opponent. It's safer than lopping off birds' wings and people's ears with glass-coated line. OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but the wax-coated cotton lines these line-touch guys use is definitely safer!

If you want more info on the North American kite fighting scene, what better place to go than the North American Fighter Kite Association. That's their official site.

Here's a typical fighter kite which ended up in a tree. When the wind gets too strong and you can't control it any more... (But perhaps this kite flew more like an ordinary single-liner - see how much tail the owner has added!)


The video below shows a complete kite fighting bout which took place at the Adelaide International Kite Festival. OK, so it's not North America. However, I'm sure a number of similar Rok Battles would take place in various events and festivals across the U.S. each year. At least the video shows some real non-traditional Western kite fighting. Even if the Rokkakus are painted with Japanese characters.

Feel like making a Rok for yourself?

Making The Dowel Rokkaku Kite is a printable e-book. It's a PDF file download.

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P.S. Keep an eye out for books by kite author Glenn Davison, a prominent kite person in the USA.

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Wind Speeds

Light Air
1-5 km/h
1-3 mph
1-3 knots
Beaufort 1

Light breeze
6–11 km/h
4–7 mph
4–6 knots
Beaufort 2

Gentle ...
12–19 km/h
8–12 mph
7–10 knots
Beaufort 3

Moderate ...
20–28 km/h
13–18 mph
11–16 knots
Beaufort 4

Fresh ...
29–38 km/h
19–24 mph
17–21 knots
Beaufort 5

Strong ...
39–49 km/h
25–31 mph
22–27 knots
Beaufort 6

High Wind
50-61 km/h
32-38 mph
28-33 knots
Beaufort 7

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