The Birth of Knot Ninja

How knowing your knots just got easier thanks to scouts in Paekākāriki and a local app developer Nick Martin.

Image: Nick Martin

Everyone has an idea for an app. Maybe it’s like a novel and everyone has one inside them, but it is hard to know where to start if you want to make it a reality.

The internet has heaps of resources, you can spend a lot of time reading how-to guides and watching videos. However, like writing a novel, there is no substitute for sitting down and working.

In 2020 I was lucky enough to only be in the office four days a week. This left me a little bit of time to learn to program in Java using Android Studio.

I also had what I thought was a fairly promising idea. An app to help parents and Scout leaders teach the basics of knot tying to children. My kids have been attending the incredibly popular Paekākāriki Scout group for a few years now and it turns out if you hang around at the Scout Den long enough, you eventually end up with a leader’s shirt on.

As a leader it is always in the back of your mind that you should be teaching kids how to tie knots. That’s what Scouts is all about right? But which knots should they learn? How do you tie them and what can, or can’t they be used for?

Paekākāriki Scout group traditionally had a pretty good solution to this. A list of the basic knots for the kids to learn and then award them a different coloured woggle for their scarf as they demonstrate each set of knots.

The kids really enjoy the challenge of getting to each level and earning a new woggle (a loop or ring of leather or cord through which the ends of a Scout’s scarf are threaded). Anytime a kid wants to stay behind after a session and show you the new things they have learned, you know you are on the right track. As the older kids wear their coloured woggles with pride, the younger kids are inspired to practice as well.

Image: Creative Commons -Commons using Flickr upload bot on 29 November 2009, 13:40 by Rodrigo.Argenton.

The problem with this is that the adult leaders (and parent help) need to know the knots to be able to teach them. Being able to tie the knots isn’t enough either, you need to know how to safely apply it as well. For example, the ever-popular reef knot is often taught as a way of joining two pieces of rope together. What is often overlooked is that it is not a load bearing knot and should only be used for securing bundles (such as reefed sails) and the main advantage of it is that it can be undone with one hand (while climbing a ship’s rigging for example) rather than its ability to hold a load. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

My idea for an app was to combine level-based progression with a resource for teaching knot tying and a snappy name on the app store, and so, Knot Ninja was born.

Image: Nick Martin

In my head it was straight forward. Research some basic knots, take photos to show how to tie them, employ an illustrator to make sure it looked OK and pull everything together with my rudimentary programming skills.

All that is easier said than done. Fortunately, the lockdown of 2020 gave me a bit more time to get things moving and after lockdown I reduced my hours to three days a week which gave me enough time to really get started in earnest.

A freelancer web site called the Unicorn Factory put me in touch with Niels Hunfeld from GUTs who did the illustrations and user-experience design. I borrowed a digital camera and a tripod so I could start taking photos showing the tying of each knot step by step.

Image: Nick Martin

So in between biking the kids to school on my days off I would put on some music and write code. Twelve months later my to-do list is down to just a few items and I have an app on the Google Play store ready for people to download.

I decided to make the app a paid product, rather than funding it with advertising, as I wanted it to be for kids and I’m not comfortable advertising directly to children. Hopefully the $2 price tag won’t put too many people off.

Writing an app is only half the job though. Promotion is the next step and after ten years of only checking Facebook to thank people who had wished me happy birthday, I now have a promotional page and check my feed compulsively. Fortunately, it is something I’m passionate about and if I can achieve a small amount of success, I will have the time to write another version of the app for iPhones so that more kids and their parents can get started with the basics of knot tying.

During this journey, it has become clear that tying knots is a fascinating subject. You take a one-dimensional object, manipulate it around itself in various ways and create something with countless uses. From decoration to hunting and fishing, sailing a boat or making warm clothes, scaling mountains or building shelters, the ability for humans to convert a simple line of fibre into a complex tool has been essential to our survival for much of our history. The first evidence of knots is from over 15,000 years ago and they had certainly been used for thousands of years before that.

Knot tying skills would have been indispensable for our ancestors’ survival and their ability to thrive in inhospitable environments. Most people would have known a variety of knots that were useful in everyday life.

Today, many people struggle to tie anything beyond a granny knot and mastering a few more basic knots is enormously satisfying and empowering. Being able to safely secure a load on a trailer or put up a swing for the kids in the back yard is something everyone should be able to do. Once you know a few basic knots you will find the number of things you can do with them is countless.

Image: Nick Martin

So, if you are interested, please go to the Android Play Store and download Knot Ninja today. If you have an iPhone you can still go to the Kakariki Software face book page and hit like. The more successful the Android version is the sooner I will be able to release it for the iPhone and iPad as well!

Finally, a big thank you to the Paekākāriki Scouting community. They have been the inspiration for Knot Ninja and the curiosity and enthusiasm of the kids is infectious. I have learnt a huge amount from the children and leaders, and I will always be grateful for the fun and challenging experiences my children and I have had as part of this group.

Whiria te tāngata – Weave the people together.

Kakariki Software

Google Play Store for Knot Ninja

Image: Nick Martin