London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Korean Fighting Kites – part 1

Dominick Jenkins explains his passion for Korean kites.

Peter Nam's avatar

Suddenly, he was there. Peter Nam. His icon, a Black, White, Panda. It dances, manically, on the screen.

Thirty years earlier. Late 1970s England. The Cotswolds. A full gale. The wind bends great beech and oak trees. Rain imminent. I am alone in a car parking lot. In my hands — a Korean fighting kite. String, glue, bamboo, paper. Shield shaped. Yellow. Painted. A twisting dragon. It took hours to make.

I should not be flying it in this weather. I am too excited not to.

I launch it. Extraordinary! The speed. The acceleration. It sweeps up. I release some string. It turns. I hold the string steady. The wind is too powerful. This is not going to last very long. A few, brief, moments. Then the kite dives straight into the tarmac. Total wreck. I pick up the pieces as the rain comes down. I am ecstatically happy.

Now, I am in my 40s. I have been put in contact with Bruce Lambert. He is a Yankee inventor. A contemporary Thomas Edison or Elmer Sperry. And an empiricist. He challenges the ancient law. When I say that the Korean method is to steam the paper so that it is taught as a drum. He says I doubt it. Mostly, wrinkled paper is better. It’s stronger. And, the kite flies more easily.

Witches kite
A Jenkins kite with a witch design in action

He is also a pioneer on the new frontier – the web. Put “kite” and his name into Google and you can see him explaining making fighting kites on YouTube. I’ve joined a small community on his website. They are people from all over the world: the Middle East, Europe, Asia and the Americas. All dedicated to developing the fighting kite.

My proposal is that we start a dialogue with Korean fighting kite makers. But, how? None of us speak Korean. It seems an impossible goal. We do have something to go on. Earlier, with the help of London Korean Links some friends of mine have brought back a real Korean fighting kite. And there are the webpages of Korean Kite Fighters Club:

One of Dominick Jenkins creations
One of Dominick Jenkins's creations

I look at the photographs showing how they make fighting kites. Sometimes it is illuminating. But, it is a bit like looking at the walls of an Egyptian tomb full of fantastic pictures and the language I do not understand. Then, suddenly, Peter Nam. It turns out Bruce Lambert knows him. We are about the same age. We have Catholic names. And, Peter rapidly put me right about this and that question. It turns out that Korean fighting kite makers today do not use steam at all.

It is the beginning of a great collaboration. As Peter put it in an e-mail to me. “Korean fighting kites are simple. But there are many secrets you need to know to make a good one”. In the past visionaries dreamed about people freely cooperating across national boundaries. Now here we are doing that. And I am learning about an extraordinary technological culture. A culture that has made Korea one of the world’s great industrial powers of our times ….

(To be continued).

3 thoughts on “Korean Fighting Kites – part 1

  1. For several years I have been looking for someone who can import some ” PAPER fighting kites ” and flying reals from Korea. I don’t need or want “art”, I want them for flying, and to teach others to fly them. DO YOU HAVE ANY CONECTIONS IN KOREA?

  2. Hello Dominick.
    I have several hundred reels unbuilt in the package and over 1000 original Korean Fighter Kites from Tom Joe. They are over 50 years old and fly amazing! I’ve been flying them for over 40 years!
    Please email me if this interests you 🙂
    Thank you.
    [email protected]

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