In 'Avatar, The Last Airbender" Toph explains that even though she can not see, she can "see" using earth bending.

She can feel the earth with her feet and we see an example of how she can "see" the ants walking near her on a tree root.

This explains how she can tell when a foe is bending earth near or toward her, however, it does not make it reasonable how can she tell when earth is being launched at her in air.

Feeling the rocks flying in the air, using the air vibrations, is an ability only Airbender can do, and it was shown more than once with Aang, Tenzin and some of the "newborn" airbenders in 'The Legend Of Korra'

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    This is just a guess, but because she can bend rock maybe she can sense it even in the air. Also it makes a sound... Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 11:00
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    Maybe she can't. But she can deduce it's there, because she "saw" the other Earthbender bending and understands what their movements and the movements of earth around them imply.
    – svick
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 11:31
  • I thought it was because of her ability to sense other's movements and could predict the direction of the rock that will be moving in which direction.... Commented Dec 24, 2020 at 12:23

4 Answers 4


The point of Toph's special ability in Avatar is that she can detect the location of her opponants, rather than the location of bendable material.

From the Avatar Wiki:

Seismic sense is a sub-skill of earthbending that constitutes for physical sense. This skill enables earthbenders to detect vibrations in the ground to perceive objects, people, and other aspects of their environment, essentially acting as sonar, but through earth and metal.

I can only assume that she can sense rock/metal wherever it is, because she is an earthbender. I can remember many occasions when benders have bended their element without seeing it, and I see no reason why Toph would not be the same, and why Toph could not also see other earth attacks from other people.

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    The 'Soner-like' animation is exactly what's confusing me. It goes through things that contact each other. So it makes sense that she can feel the metal in Korra, but still does not explain things in mid-air
    – Mor Zamir
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 11:09
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    My point is that the sonar-like thing allows her to feel vibrations in the bendable material she is standing on, which show her where people or animals are. Thus she can't see Aang when he glides over her with air. But unlike people, to her earth is bendable, so she could 'see' earth even if she was suspended in midair. Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 11:12
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    I see, this actually makes sense. When they fight each other on the ring you can see him gliding around and she really cannot tell where he is. when I have 15 reputations I will upvote you!
    – Mor Zamir
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 11:15
  • she could 'see' earth even if she was suspended in midair – Then how come she was unable to locate The Gecko during Earth Rumble IV when he was in the air, holding himself up using rocks?
    – forest
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 22:46

There are several possible viable possibilities for this: [1] Gravitational force sensing [2] Her enhanced senses [3] Electrical charge detection [4] Connection to the earth element itself [5] Pure telekinesis

  1. It has been theorized by some that any form of bending utilizes mental manipulation of chi to control the gravitational field of a specific element by attuning itself to that element. If that's the case, the gravitational field would be constant on any element unless more of said element was added to the initial mass. As such, any fluctuation within a gravity field of any battle area would be noticeable by an experienced bender, especially one who had to develop compensatory senses.
  2. On a very basic level, Toph's other natural senses, not just her "seismic sense" may be naturally heightened, very akin to Dare Devil's. Matt Murdoch has been shown in various media to be able to sense, accurately, where multiple items whizzing through the air----everything from Bulls-eye's bullets to drops of rain------ are coming from, and where they are going, in order to avoid them. It's not inconceivable to think Toph's sense of hearing and touch have developed to a similar degree, making her positioning of earth in the air somewhat intuitive and unconscious.
  3. Everything that has kinetic energy has a slight electrical charge. Sharks have developed a sense where they can detect even the slightest of these charges, as in blood moving through the veins of a creature. IF Toph has a similar sense, or this sensitivity is developed within all benders, they wouldn't need to "see" their elements to have an idea where they are in relation to the bender's position.
  4. If we want to keep it on the metaphysical side, Avatar has shown that people develop a natural "affinity" for their element on a somewhat spiritual level. As part of a complex living planet, each element may have its own "signature spiritual wavelength" as such, and any skilled user who is attuned enough to their element may be able to react to it on an unconscious level, no matter where its "positioned" in relation to their bodies. This has been shown in low levels to various degrees within the series as an element becoming stronger or weaker in its effect based around the bender's mindset, emotional state and reactions; Katara has "reacted" and created shields of ice unexpectedly, for instance, or Zuko's flame has flared when he's enraged, or Azula nearly losing her mind at being defeated and her fire spurting out of control would be prime examples.
  5. Simply put, any form of bending is basically a specialized form of telekinesis, meaning the object is being controlled purely by their mind's direction. Psychokinesis in particular has been separated from Telekinesis as "manipulation of objects one can't see", though in truth, both are essentially synonyms. Either way, while conceivably some thought would need to go to where the element is being directed, if the user is skilled enough, sight specifically may not be necessary. Think of it as a juggler who is skilled enough after years of practice to keep several objects in the air while blindfolded; their control has been so refined for the "feel" of their art they no longer need a visual reference to have an idea of where the items are in the air.

These are just some possibilities. A few in particular would be backed up by the analysis of Toph's powers done on a Death Battle between her and Gaara in 2015. I can link it below if anyone is interested.


All benders are connected to their element and can somewhat sense its presence. Their chi resonates with it. She can see earth in the air because there is basically bending sense. But unlike other benders she grew so dependant and accustomed to it, it's finely tuned. She can't sense other materials in the air, only earth.


During the episode "The Blind Bandit" Toph was using her seismic sense during her fight against Xin Fu. When she throws a bolder at her she sees his hand in the arena, knowing that he is going for an attack she quickly steps out of the way dodging the bolder.

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