Toph Beifong, usually referred to as Toph, was a cute and tomboyishly beautiful Earthbending master and perhaps the most powerful Earthbender of her time, as well as the secondary tritagonist of Avatar: The Last Airbender and one of the supporting characters in Book 4 of The Legend of Korra. Blind since birth, Toph was constantly condescended to because of her disability and stature as a little girl, especially by her overprotective parents. Upon discovering badgermoles, Earthbending animals who were blind just like her, she learned seismic sense through them; that is to say, from them she learned the ability to use Earthbending as an extension of her senses, which effectively gave her "sight" through vibrations in the ground.
Known as the "Blind Bandit", she mastered Earthbending through her own style and developed a tough-guy personality, becoming infamous by winning underground Earthbending tournaments behind her parents' backs. Initially uninterested, she chose to leave behind her old life and travel with Avatar Aang and friends to be his Earthbending teacher when her home life became unbearable for her. Toph's mastery over earth, especially with Metalbending which she created, as well as her unique personality, proved her to be a valuable addition to Team Avatar.
Attitude and personality
When first introduced, Toph brought a completely new personality to the group. Unlike the nurturing Katara, flighty Aang, or gruff but goofy Sokka, Toph was fiercely independent, sarcastic, direct, stubborn, confrontational, and somewhat spoiled despite her cuteness and beauty. She appeared to have the same carefree and adventurous personality as Aang and she was very tomboyish in the way she acted and dressed, in contrast to the delicate doll her parents saw her as. However, unlike Aang, who avoided fighting whenever possible, Toph loved battling and took great pride in her earthbending skills. She appeared eager to prove that she was as strong as anyone who could see and once claimed that she was "the greatest earthbender in the world".
Toph's eagerness to prove that she could be independent led to some initial difficulties with Aang and his friends. Toph insisted that she could "carry her own weight" and often mistook a simple friendly gesture as an act of pity for her blindness. Her encounter with Iroh, however, taught her that Aang, Katara, and Sokka cared for her because they were friends, not because her disability made them feel obligated to do so.
Toph was often brutally honest when criticizing others, especially her friends. She was vocal about her opinions on others regardless of status (the Avatar, Aang) or age (Iroh). Her occasional attitude or aloofness is likely related to her being the only child of one of the richest families in the Earth Kingdom. Due to her time as a competitor and champion of earthbending tournaments, she was an expert in verbally taunting and insulting her opponents and, on occasion, her friends, particularly Sokka. She revealed to Katara that, being unable to see what she looks like, she did not feel the need to fuss over her appearance. However, despite her many quirks, Toph showed that she was a quick learner, and her courage and loyalty to her new friends seemed very stable.
Toph and Katara seemed to be polar opposites; while Katara was kind, welcoming and supportive, Toph was rough, unyielding and steadfast. These differences in personality extended to the way both girls taught Aang; however, Toph eventually showed a bit of compromise in order to help Aang through his initial difficulty with earthbending. Despite occasional clashes or spats, Toph and Katara generally got along.
One of Toph's most obvious traits involved personal hygiene. She was accustomed to lying on the ground and walking everywhere barefoot leaving her soles soiled, a habit common among the earthbenders. Also, she had been seen belching loudly, picking her nose or toes, spitting, and was usually covered in dirt or, as she called it, "a healthy coating of earth".
Toph was well-educated in the manners and bearings of high society — she merely consciously and constantly chose to ignore them. She made an exception when the group needed to go to a special party to see the Earth King, in order to give news of the solar eclipse, only to meet the head of the Dai Li, Long Feng.
Toph did not let her blindness hurt her self-confidence. She had high self-esteem in regard to many of her abilities and was more than determined to show that she would not let her blindness deter her from living freely and fighting like everyone else. However, sometimes this acted as a ruse to hide personal insecurities. After getting a makeover with Katara in Ba Sing Se, some residents of the city mocked Toph for it (who retaliated with a prank). She told Katara that "one of the good things about being blind [was] that [she did] not have to waste [her] time worrying about appearances" and was not looking for anyone's approval. Katara voiced that it was something she admired in Toph but could tell that she had been hurt by the insult and added that though it did not matter, she was in fact pretty, which visibly cheered up the blind girl.
An ongoing joke concerning Toph's blindness was her lack of ability to discern anything that had been written or drawn. In Ba Sing Se, Toph became angry when Sokka suggested that she needed help distributing fliers. She angrily slapped up a poster herself, only to inadvertently place it backward and say, "It's upside-down, isn't it?" Also, she sarcastically complimented Sokka on his drawings of Appa despite the obvious fact that she could not see them. Later, in the Fire Nation, after being presented with the same wanted poster twice, Toph vocally expressed her annoyance with the constant oversight. Toph was comfortable enough, however, with the group's absent-mindedness on the subject of her blindness to even joke about it herself at times. For example, while searching for Wan Shi Tong's Library, Toph, while flying on Appa, claimed that she saw it, before remarking, "That's what it'll sound like when one of you spots it", and waving a hand in front of her eyes with a nonchalant smile.
While hijacking an airship, Toph mistook Sokka's comment about taking the wheel, thinking he was referring to her. By the smile on her face, it was pretty clear that she was gleeful about getting another chance to correct him. However, it turned out that Sokka was talking to Suki, and Toph managed to subsequently cover up her original intention pretty well. At the reunion in the Jasmine Dragon after the passing of Sozin's Comet, she made a joke about Sokka's drawing, saying that she thought everyone looked perfect.
Because of the restrictions placed upon her by her parents and the fact that their servants waited upon her hand-and-foot lest she hurt herself, Toph often seemed to want to take on the responsibilities and obtain the freedoms of adulthood. This caused problems for herself and her friends, most notably during their visit to Fire Fountain City, as she did not always take into account how this might endanger her or aggravate others. No matter how she acted, though, others realized that she was still a vulnerable child underneath everything else she pretended to be.
When she went on to teach her unique talent of metalbending, she realized how her dogged pursuit of her own dreams of becoming the world's first metalbending teacher disrespected who her students were. She found parallels between how she was treating them as people by restricting them simply so they could meet her vision of them with how her parents had treated her back when she still lived with them. She subsequently decided to give up her metalbending academy so that she would not use it as an outlet for the pain she felt from her relationship with her parents onto her students. Lucky for her, her students happened to have overheard her conversation with Sokka about this subject, and responded to it by overcoming the limits the rest of the world saw as defining them in an attempt to live up to the vision Toph had had for them, and were finally able to metalbend.
Due to her troubled past with her parents, Toph also exhibited a modernist attitude, believing that change is the key to progress.
As a mother, Toph found herself to be a direct opposite of her parents, letting her daughters be free to find their own way, though Suyin claimed that Toph was not pleased with the paths either of her daughters had chosen.
In old age, Toph retained her abrasive, no-nonsense personality, being harshly critical of Korra's abilities and enjoying defeating Korra in combat. However, Toph adopted a new mindset that moved beyond the realm of good and evil; After spending years defending her beliefs in what is right and just, she realized that no matter how hard she tried, crime and injustice would never give up and thus became weary of the never-ending battle.
Despite her tough exterior, Toph is not above warming up during intimate moments, as evidenced when she joined in group hugs with Team Avatar and held hands with Aang at the prospect of friendships lasting more than one lifetime. Although she had become more cynical in old age, she would allow herself to show affection when she deemed the other person worthy, as evidenced when she let Korra hug her after earning her respect and did not berate or try to stop Opal's embrace when they met again after several years of separation.
Toph's proclamation of being the most powerful earthbender in the world is strongly supported by her talented displays of earthbending. Although blind, Toph's training in earthbending under the original earthbenders, the badgermoles, allowed her to use their unique ability of seismic sense: she used earthbending to "feel" even the most minute vibrations in the earth, including the march of ants several meters away and the presence of trees and buildings. Through this heightened seismic sense, Toph could visualize where people were, their relative distance to her, and their physical build, but was unable to visualize faces. This sense provided her with a distinct advantage when facing other earthbenders in combat, because she could predict attacks as they began and quickly react. Her knowledge of the art also allowed her to teach it to others like Aang, and later her daughter, Lin. Her speed and agility were also greatly beneficial in combat.
Her earthbending style was unique and thus unpredictable, as her training was unconventional and more deeply rooted into the nature of earthbending rather than just pure fighting. This style greatly differentiated from the rigid training and fighting style that earthbenders like the Dai Li implemented. Toph's style tended to be proven to be superior to the Dai Li, as she was able to take on a number of them and defend her friends at the same time. This is likely because while the Dai Li just manipulated the earth, Toph had established a tremendously deep connection to it at the very outset of her self-tutelage in earthbending (although both styles have an over dependence on something i.e. the Dai Li and their earth gloves and Toph and her feet).
However, because Toph was dependent on vibrations in the earth, she was vulnerable to air-based attacks, as shown in her fight with Aang in Earth Rumble VI. Later, Toph was completely surprised by Sokka dropping a large belt on her head. Her success rate in intercepting projectiles was also tied to her sensing of vibrations, being able to feel an opponent's movement, and proceeding accordingly. By her own admission, she could not aim properly at opponents while they were airborne.
Terrain that impaired Toph's ability to sense vibrations also hindered her abilities, as shown when Toph had some difficulty with sand, describing the vibrations in the earth as "fuzzy". She was able to compress sand into solid rock to gain some temporary footing, but was still unable to accurately aim attacks under those conditions. However, she seemed to have ultimately gained some mastery of sandbending, as she mentioned working on it during Team Avatar's beach party and was able to create a miniature version of the upper ring of Ba Sing Se in rich detail. Apparently, her ability to sense vibrations had improved, which may be how she was able to produce the very fine details of the city and did not show the same helplessness she had shown when previously walking on sand when the gang stepped onto the beach. By 174 AG, Toph attained a state of enlightenment similar to Huu, being able to use the connections of the swamp she lived in with her senses to survey the world and observe everyone.
Toph also expressed an aversion for flying and submarine travel, as she could not sense her surroundings without her feet on solid ground. Also, as a result of her closeness or affinity with earth, Toph could rest or sleep comfortably on solid rock without any sleeping bag or blanket and could walk on any kind of terrain in bare feet, a standard trait for earthbenders. Toph relied on direct contact between her feet and the ground for "sight" as well as for her earthbending. Toph was very reluctant to allow anyone else to touch her feet, probably because insensitive handling there would make her deaf to other vibrations and thereby render her helpless (and because they were far more sensitive than other people's feet).
Despite her substantial prowess on land, Toph did not perform well in water and on ice. She seemed incapable of seeing where she was going on ice, was not able to swim, and became nauseous when she needed to travel by submarine in the invasion of the Fire Nation.
In Ba Sing Se, Toph was seen feeling even slight vibrations as she told a man they met, "I can feel you shaking." Also, Toph demonstrated an ability to sense when a person was lying by the vibrations of his/her heartbeat and breathing patterns. However, Toph's ability to detect lies was not absolute, as Azula demonstrated when she was easily able to lie without even the slightest physical reaction. However, very few people have the ability to lie while manipulating their breathing and pulse in this way.
Toph's earthbending style was based on Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis, which is a style that is apparently unique to her; the style of earthbending used by other earthbenders is rooted in the Hung Gar style of Kung Fu. She was the only bender known to use a style based on a different root martial art than the standard for their bending art. This may be because she was self-taught rather than trained in the traditional earthbending form. Toph came to develop her unique style by observing the movements of the also blind earthbending badgermoles that could be found in the caves around her hometown. By 174 AG, Toph's fighting style evolved to incorporate more fluid and evasive maneuvers, bending mud more akin to waterbending.
Because sand is loose and ultimately always changing with the winds of the desert, Toph found it hard to navigate through and control. To compensate somewhat, she could condense the sand together to give her a better footing. However, when she tried to attack one of the sandbenders with a small wave of sand during their ambush of her and Appa, she missed, her lack of precision on the sand aggravated by her hurry to save both Appa and the others.
After the events in the Si Wong Desert had shown her inability to see effectively while walking on sand, Toph practiced her sandbending, eventually achieving a mastery over it that allowed her to create an extremely detailed sand version of Ba Sing Se during her time relaxing at Ember Island.
Toph created the ability to bend metal in the spring of 100 AG. Metal is derived from ore, which is found in the earth. Guru Pathik explained to Aang that "metal is just a part of earth that has been purified and refined". Because of Toph's ability to feel the vibrations in earth, she was able to locate the impurities (the small fragments of earth) still found in most metals and manipulate them to "bend" the metal portion. By acquiring these metalbending abilities, Toph had shown herself to be one of the most powerful and ingenious earthbenders in the world, being the only known earthbender to ever bend metal during the Hundred Year War, a feat that even the Avatar was unable to perform since the origin of earthbending.
When Sokka finished his training as a sword master, he gave Toph a small piece of meteorite, which, being composed of earth and metal, she could easily mold into a myriad of shapes, subsequently transforming it into an arm bracelet which she would wear.
She originally used an underdeveloped form of metalbending and usually needed to have direct contact with the element to manipulate it at all, let alone skillfully. However, she continued to practice her metalbending and started to display a dexterous control over metal.
In Wulong Forest, when she was breaking into a Fire Nation airship, it was shown that her metalbending had improved greatly, as she created metal armor and manipulated the metallic structure of the room with far more ease than before, moving metal more fluidly. She was also able to crawl along the metal ceiling while completely covered in metal. Additionally, Toph could metalbend outside of her metal armor, even though she was already bending the armor in the first place.
A year later, Toph could bend metal that she was not in contact with, like when she demonstrated her ability to bend metal to Kunyo, who was trying to take over the metalbending school, by bending a metal weapon around his head. She later stated that as long as someone could see the metal, she could bend it, which she demonstrated when metalbending screws and bolts to unscrew the wheels of Fire Nation tanks.
Toph later taught this self-invented technique to many earthbenders, including her daughters. After the Hundred Year War, Toph further refined metalbending to the point of being able to start and lead a capable law enforcement group of metalbending police officers. Following Toph's retirement, Lin Beifong became the new Chief of Police, demonstrating her prodigious metalbending and leadership abilities. Despite all of her accomplishments in the development of metalbending, Toph never succeeded in bending pure metals such as platinum. She was, however, able to sense even trace amounts of metal, unlike her daughters.
Despite her lack of actual sight, her remaining senses, primarily her sense of touch and hearing, were especially acute, allowing her to use her seismic sense to remarkable levels. With the latter sense, she once claimed herself that she "never [forgot] a voice". This was shown when the gang traveled through the Si Wong Desert, where they were confronted by a group of sandbenders and she almost immediately recognized one as one of the sandbenders that kidnapped Appa the day before. Later in the summer, while the gang was on a captured Fire Nation ship, Hakoda and Bato seemingly deceived the captain of another ship, but the captain realized the ship as a captured one. Toph overheard the captain whispering to his troops to sink the ship and attacked. While visiting a creepy village in the Fire Nation, Toph heard people screaming all the way from atop a mountain and everyone later deduced that that was where several prisoners were being held.
Toph also showed a decent amount of artistic talent, as she was able to create a realistic replica of the city of Ba Sing Se with sandbending while Team Avatar stayed at Ember Island, contrasting with Sokka's poor sculpting abilities when he created a sand sculpture of Suki. Later in a training exercise involving all of the members of the team, she was able to create earthbending mannequins while acting as the "Melon Lord" (who was in reality an inanimate mannequin made to resemble the Fire Lord, supported by a small earth column and clothed in Fire Nation robes).
As befits one who has mastered the use of neutral jing by waiting and listening to the earth, Toph had a great sense of hearing, able to clearly hear the most subtle of whispering from a considerable distances and could recognize people by the sound of their voices. In the Si Wong Desert, Toph recognized the sandbender who stole Appa, remarking as she did so that she never forgets a voice. She likewise has very fine memory, able to accurately remember and distinguish the physical form of people as she quickly determined one of the Kyoshi Warriors was actually Ty Lee in disguise.
She also seemed to enjoy acting and showed a decent amount of talent at it, getting more into character as the "Melon Lord" than was necessary for Team Avatar's training purposes, rebuffing Katara for acting out of character when Aang distracted her from their act of being noblewomen (as was made necessary for entry into the Earth King's party), and reveling in the "stage name" given to her as "The Runaway". This appreciation for "getting into character" as an actor was likely behind her greater ability to enjoy the The Boy in the Iceberg play relative to the rest of Team Avatar.
She also displayed a remarkable amount of agility for one who preferred to have her feet planted on the ground at all times. In Team Avatar's first battle with Combustion Man, she rolled, pushed herself off of the ground with one hand and flipped over in the air to regain her balance after his first shot. She positioned herself in an earthbending stance in order to fight back against her attacker as quickly as possible. Toph apparently also had a good enough sense of balance and strong enough neck muscles to carry a basket full of groceries on her head.