MBK Dowel Rokkaku
MBK Dowel Rokkaku
Although there are differences between East and West, Rok battles
involving individuals or teams are still being organized in various
parts of the world.
In Japan, the kites are often large and made from traditional construction materials. We were fortunate enough to see a few examples of the real thing at a kite festival here in Adelaide one year.
Talking about that kite festival.. For several years, a collection of identical small white Rokkakus were pulled out each year for a crowd-pleasing item - the Rokkaku Challenge! One year I captured an entire bout on video. The soundtrack also captured the running commentary coming through the PA.
In the USA there is also a thriving Rok-battle scene with it's own rules and kites made from more modern materials.
The last kite remaining in the air wins! Strings are either sawn through or kites tangle and come to ground together.
When the weather's good and you have the time, it's great to get out with a kite or 3. But what about on bad weather days? Then it's time to pull out...
"Kites Up!" - my downloadable kite-flying board game! Apart from towing indoor kites, doing a spot of imaginary flying is the next best thing :-)
Here's an interesting little snippet I picked up... Have you heard it said that the Delta is the easiest type of kite to fly, hence good for beginners?
Heard it myself once, over the PA system at a big festival! Well, the whisper is... Once someone owns a Rokkaku kite, they never go back to a Delta!
The frame of a Rokkaku kite looks similar in shape regardless of the
overall size. The thickness and strength of the spars are just scaled up
or down depending on how big the kite is. Most Roks are just under 2
meters (6 feet) in height, since this is the most common size in a kite
battle. My little 29 cm 1-Skewer Rok is very much the exception!
Here's some of the variations, or lack thereof, in Roks you might see flying today...
Rok featuring applique decoration
- overall size of both traditional and Western Rok-inspired kites doesn't vary a whole lot, in general
- the basic outline is always the same, with minor variations in proportions
- traditional construction materials hardly vary at all, which contrasts with the variety of modern kite-making materials
- traditional Rokkakus are designed to fly without a tail in all conditions
- traditional Roks are artistically decorated and shop-bought versions are available in very vivid modern designs
- the number of bridle points varies, with more being used for flying in stronger winds
- traditionally, the sail was hand-made paper but these days rip-stop nylon is commonly used for Roks
Here's a few comments on each of the above points.
Size. Most plans and write-ups for Rokkaku kites feature a
vertical spar around 1.8 meters (6 feet) long. This is because the most
commonly accepted size for Rok Battle kites is 6 feet. Kites bought
from stores vary a bit more with one well known shop selling sizes from
1.2 meters (47 inches) tall through to 2 meters (78 inches) tall.
There's that 6 foot measurement again! There also seems to be the
occasional bigger home-made Rokkaku kite, say 7 or 8 feet tall, flown
for recreation. And of course, the Kite Aerial Photography crowd have
always loved their super big, stable Roks!
Shape. Rokkaku kites all look pretty much the same in
outline, with six corners, a long vertical spar, and two bowed cross
spars. There are 2 widely used proportions in particular, named 4,5,6 and 3,4,5. For example, 3,4,5
means that the kite is 5 units tall, 4 units wide, and the main body -
the rectangular bit - is 3 units tall. That means the cross spars are 1
unit in from the top and bottom.
Construction. The Japanese like to refer to the kite frame
as the 'bones', and the sail material as the 'skin'. Sounds logical to
me! A modern Rokkaku kite might have pockets in the sail, into which the
ends of the spars are inserted. Then the cross spars are bowed, and the
kite is ready for flight. Not much to it really, a small price for
having something collapsible and easily transportable. Browsing around, I
came across 3 separate methods for holding a bow in a cross spar...
- The truckie's knot. Without going into detail, this is an easy way
to hold tension in the line while tying it off at one end of the cross
- Using one line from each end of the cross spar. A button on one and
loop on the other allow the lines to be connected in the middle and
hence hold the tension.
- Using a slider with 3 holes. With a slight twist, the line moves
easily through the slider, but let it go and it holds the tension
firmly. One end of the line is tied off at the 3rd hole, after passing
around one spar end.
One clever idea used by some designs is where the vertical
spar remains attached to the cross spars. However, it separates in the
middle and so each section can be swung around parallel to the cross
spar to which it is attached. In this state, the whole thing can just be
rolled up like a mat. Easy.
Being able to alter the amount of bow easily, as with the 3 holed
slider, is handy. This way, the stability of the kite can be tweaked to
suit the conditions.
Tails. Usually, Roks are flown without tails. However, a tail can be useful in strong winds. People who suspend expensive cameras from their kite line are particularly keen to have the kite nice and stable in strong winds!
Decoration. Firstly, some modern methods... Strips of different colored material can be joined together before the outline is cut. The appliqué
technique involves sticking light but colorful cut-out patterns onto
the sail material. Screen printed sail material can be used. These
methods can be seen in both shop-bought and home-made kites. Nearly all
traditional Japanese kites were brush painted with bright colored
natural dyes and black ink. The shape of the Rokkaku kite really lends
itself to displaying a face of some sort. I've seen everything from
people to eagles' heads!
Bridle. When it comes to bridles, there is some variation.
Generally a 4 point bridle is sufficient for the standard 2 meter Rok.
The bridle lines attach to the cross spars, midway between the vertical
spar and the edge of the kite. Kites this size or larger can benefit
from an extra 1, 2 or even 3 bridle lines attached to the vertical spar.
This helps the spars resist bending out of shape in strong winds.
Sail. A traditional Rokkaku kite used washi paper, which
was hand-made. These days, rip-stop nylon or Tyvek is a common choice
for the larger kites. Smaller kites made in workshop sessions often just
use plastic or tissue paper.
Like to see a video clip? Just scroll down to near the end...
Rokkaku Kites In Action
Even more so than a large diamond, the Rokkaku kite is pretty versatile. Roks are used for...
- kite battles, oh yes!
- hoisting line laundry such as spinners and inflatables
- Kite Aerial Photography in a large range of wind speeds
- other lifting tasks, such as atmospheric measuring equipment
- kite rescue - that was a new one on me too!
The Rokkaku kite battle originated in Japan, like the
kite itself. In the West, these competitions are organized for either
individuals or teams. The idea is to force your opponent's kite to the
ground. Here are the three methods used...
- Cutting - by slicing through another flying line with your own, similar to an Indian fighter kite battle
- Tipping - by upsetting another kite with your own flying line, causing the other kite to touch the ground. Takes a bit of skill.
- Wind blocking - managing to stay in the air while others run out of flying room and end up on the ground. Sneaky!
It's not uncommon to see a Rok battle at a kite festival. Sounds like a lot of fun!
Out In The Field
Rokkaku kite stories of my real-life flying experiences are worth checking out!
Illustrated with photos and videos, of course.
With their strong lifting ability and stable flying
characteristics, it's no wonder people use a Rokkaku kite for hanging
out their line laundry. You know, spinners, streamers, even big
inflatable creations that float and dance in the wind. If you've been to
a kite festival you would have seen this kind of thing for sure.
Airborne line laundry makes good subject matter for KAPers too.
Talking about KAP, or Kite Aerial Photography, the largest
Rokkakus are commonly used for lifting camera rigs. My guess, in 2007,
is that as digital cameras get better and lighter in future, these guys
won't need such huge kites to get decent images! We'll see.
Here's a delightful picture of a decent sized Rokkaku kite...
Photo courtesy of Jeff Attaway.
Now here's an interesting lifting application. Some guys
working for the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht
(I.M.A.U.) have used a couple of Roks for scientific purposes, way down
in Antarctica. Due to the extreme cold, these kites were specially
designed to be rigged while the flier is wearing thick gloves. Their 2
meter and 1.5 meter Roks were used separately or stacked together, to
provide the required lifting force in a variety of wind conditions. The
payload was atmospheric measuring equipment, hoisted to the considerable
height of 600 meters (2000 feet).
Did you know that kites have been rescued from trees, by other kites? Neither did I until very recently! Kite rescue is done, I presume, by flying under
the flying line of the stuck kite. If the lines cross fairly close to
the tree, I can imagine how there would be a good chance of lifting it
out of the branches and leaves. How about that.
The Tyvek-sailed Rok up there was a one-off by a well-known kite designer. We took this video at the local kite festival.
Some Rokkaku Kite History
At this point, I haven't yet waded through any big books on Japanese
kite history, so I haven't got much specifically on the Rokkaku kite.
However, there are a few snippets I can share with you...
Most artistic Japanese kites were developed in the Edo period
from 1603 to 1867. At this time, Japan was closed to foreigners.
Different designs originated from different regions of the country,
including, presumably, the Rokkaku. Since the earliest times, some Roks
have been adorned with the faces of heroes from Japanese folklore. In
1649, the Sanjo Rokkaku fighting kite festival began at Niigata
Prefecture in Japan.
There is actually a Rokkakudo Temple located in central Kyoto. Since the rokkaku
part of the name refers to the hexagonal shape of the temple, there
seems to be some connection. Only historians would know which came first
- the kite or the temple! Sanjo is a location in Kyoto Prefecture,
hence the traditional name, the Sanjo Rokkaku.
It's not hard to make a simple Rok, like our Dowel Rokkaku in the video up there.
As mentioned earlier, there's another alternative to towing indoor kites if it's just not possible to fly outdoors...
"Kites Up!" is my downloadable board game. It's a PDF file which has all the documentation for the game plus images for all the components. Tokens, cards, the board itself and so on. Anyway, just click that link to see more info :-)