In many countries throughout Asia, flying a kite means fighting with a kite. In India, Japan, Thailand, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Korea, kite battles fill the skies at seasonal tournaments and festivals. Fighters compete to cut each other’s kites out of the sky. Kites climb, swerve, and dive, trying to avoid the deadly friction from a competitor’s line coated with finely crushed glass or diamond dust.
The Korean fighter kite is the country’s signature kite, the Bangpae yeon, a rectangular, bowed “shield” kite with a hole in the middle of the sail. The frame uses five bamboo spars – one each across the top and the “waist” of the kite, a “spine,” and two diagonals. The spine and diagonals are carefully tapered toward the bottom, and the spar at the waist is very thin so that it will bend easily in the wind. The sail is made of Korean handmade paper, called sunji or sun hanji.
The kites are made in different sizes, with larger kites flown in heavier winds. The width is usually two-thirds of the length, but some fighters prefer the speed and maneuverability of a width four-fifths of the length. The size of the hole also affects how fast the kite can be flown.
Usually the hole’s diameter is a bit more than a third of the kite’s width and helps the kite to fly more stably. But stability means sacrificing speed, so competitors sometimes reduce the diameter of the hole to help the kite gain speed. The trade-off? A kite with a smaller hole is harder to control, especially when the wind is light.
Like fighting kiters throughout Asia, Koreans use cutting line – two to three thousand feet of silk line coated with glue or resin and some kind of sharp substance, powder from crushed porcelain or glass soda bottles at one time, powdered synthetic diamonds now. French kite maker Pierre Fabre calls Korean cutting line “the strongest and most dangerous in the world.”
Kite fighters engage in a series of one-on-one battles until a winner prevails. Combat can last for five minutes but usually concludes in two minutes – or in as little as ten seconds! Fighters stand ten yards apart and send their kites to the same height in the sky before the battle begins. The contest takes place at a great distance, as much as 3000 feet above the heads of fighters and spectators.
For more information about the Bangpae kite: