Tonbi ga taka o umu literally means “a kite giving birth to a hawk”, and is a an example of karatedo in the kan’yōku (慣用句) category: an idiomatic phrase that draws heavily on symbolism. Because it is not four kanji in length, it is not a yojijukugo (四字熟語) — however, it is obviously allegorical in nature.
Tonbi ga taka o umu creates the possibility of a common, somewhat unspecialized thing like a kite producing a powerful, beautiful, and majestic offspring — the hawk. Imagine such a thing: that a child’s toy, even a sophisticated one at that — might possibly produce a stunningly powerful and deadly-efficient predator like a hawk! Yet, such a possibility exists: perhaps not in the literal sense, of course, but certainly in the figurative sense.
[Pronounced “Tone-bee gah tahkah oh oo-moo”]
We, as karateka, have the possibility to take the mundane, the ordinary, and sometimes even, the unwanted — and turn that into something wonderful, desired, even magical. We are often faced with circumstances not to our liking, or not of our choosing — but we have the ability to transform that which we do not want into something that delights, fulfills, and satisfies us.
In major part, tonbi ga taka o umu teaches us to look past the immediate reality in front of us, and see the shadows of the future possibilities waiting for us to breathe life into them. We can turn a kite into a hawk: but to do truly do so, we must have both the vision of the hawk, and we must believe. We must believe that in fact, we can make that “hawk” from a “kite.”
Karatedo empowers us to seek to shape and nudge the future, to form the future from the crucible of the things we have now, in the present — and to deliver the future that we want for ourselves and those around us. Sometimes the strength of our belief is challenged; sometimes our confidence in our own abilities to design and effect the transformation is challenged; but the transformation itself is possible, nonetheless, if we belief it is, and if we work effectively and with great diligence, the transformation we seek will occur.
With strong enough kokoro (spirit) and with nintai (endurance and persistence), we can make a hawk from the union of two kites.