Tsuru no Hitokoe— The One Voice of the Crane 鶴の一声

We are inundated with the chatter of meaningless and unimportant voices in social media, email, chat messages, and more. As karateka, we must rise above this noise to discern the truly important voices around us.

Tsuru no hitokoe 鶴の一声 [pronounced “Zoo-roo no hit-oh-koh-eh”] literally means “the crane’s one voice” or “the statement of the crane” — and brings to mind two very important concepts: after all discussion, the voice of authority cuts through the clutter and speaks, and then we move forward; and it is of primary importance to tune-out the clutter of thousands of inconsequential statements, while focusing on what is important.

Tsuro no hitokoe is often paired with the phrase suzume no senkoe 雀の千声 — the latter phrase roughly translates into “the squawks of a thousand sparrows” — to complete a two-part expression of “the squawks of a thousand sparrows, the one voice of the crane.” 

This pairing of expressions serves up a powerful visual contrast to reinforce the dual messages of Tsuru no hitokoe 鶴の一声 even more.

(As an aside, it should be noted that the crane is often seen as a very, very loud bird with a resounding sound signature. Sparrows, of course, are small birds capable of only a greatly reduced volume, compared to a crane.)

The Noise Speaks Louder than the Signal

Let’s examine the notion of filtering out the inconsequential to focus on the important.

Just like a crane surrounded by thousands of sparrows, we too are surrounded by the voices of thousands. Those voices come to us in all the modern communication methods that we have: emails, messaging systems, phone calls and video conferencing, and of course, social media. All of those communication channels are capable of producing, quite literally, thousands of messages that cross your various devices every day.

Imagine, in fact, that each of those messages was the squawk of a bird. My, oh what a cacophony of sound would wash over us! It would almost feel like one of the scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense movie masterpiece, The Birds, in which for some inexplicable reason, all the birds of the earth suddenly act in concert and drive humans away, in part using only the thunderous calls that they produce.

All of these inputs into our consciousness distract us, surely. But they do much more than that: they make it hard to “hear” and pay attention to the important messages, the important signals.

The voice of a thousand sparrows does more damage than that, however. 

Not only do the countless social media updates and messages from all sources make it harder to pay attention to the important things we need to hear, they also drown out those important messages so that we do not even hear them.

Sometimes, there are so many sparrows chattering that we can’t even hear the voice of the crane, despite the dominant booming nature of the crane.

We simply can’t hear the voices we need to hear, and want to hear, because the cacophony of trivialities drowns those important voices out.

Tsuru no hitokoe 鶴の一声 reminds us that we must listen carefully for the voice of the crane, and that the voice of the crane should push out the noise of the chattering sparrows.

The Signal is More Important than a Thousand Noises

The volume of “the noise” isn’t the only problem, however.

Yes, certainly a thousand sparrows may chatter and make it harder to physically hear the boom of the crane, but worse: possibly if we’re not paying attention, or are fooled, the voices of a thousand sparrows may make the sparrows appear to be bigger than the crane.

This is an illusion, however. And a dangerous one, at that.

It is said that a thousand fools might be louder than one wise man, but that doesn’t make the words of the fools more valuable than the words of the single wise man. It is this exact sentiment that Tsuru no hitokoe 鶴の一声 communicates to us.

Do we not see this played out for us on the daily stage of our various messaging platforms? We receive so many emails, see so many social media posts, get so many messages from sources of dubious quality. And because we see so many of these messages, the sheer volume of them starts to affect our ability to discriminate between what is important and what is not. And as this continues, we sometimes start to mistake volume with importance, and ascribe value to the messages that are repeated enough, posted and reposted enough, that they seem to take on an importance greater than they should.

And sometimes the volume of the sparrows turns a patent falsehood into a statement that appears true. It has long been a cornerstone of propaganda that if a lie is repeated enough times, it begins to be assumed to be true.

At that point, we have gone past an illusion that might cause us to miss something important, to a much worse and darker place: the crescendo of the sparrows’ chattering might cause us to believe what is not true.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen this effect on social media more times than we care to remember. A handful of negative stories, a rumor that starts as a rumor and takes on a life of its own, or even an opinion that is couched as “journalism” — all of these are things that aren’t true, in whole or in part — and yet they become amplified by repostings until they take on a cloak of truth, a voice of authority.

And in a short time, the chattering of a thousand sparrows start to be mistaken for the voice of authority of the crane. The whispered lies of the sparrows masquerade as the booming truth of the crane.

Tsuru no hitokoe 鶴の一声 is as much a warning as it is a call to action: we are admonished to “turn down the volume” on the sparrows, and listen more closely for the booming voice of the crane.

The shikishi board for Tsuru no hitokoe, from Kagami Biraki 2021 at Goju Karate.

Hear the Voice of the Crane

Tsuru no hitokoe 鶴の一声 also urges us to become the voice of the crane, to achieve it in our own minds and hearts.

Especially when we are surrounded by a sea of aimless chatter, it is easy for us to forget our own authoritative voice. Or sometimes we are lulled into the complacency of not forming our own voice, hearing our own booming command. 

This is very unfortunate, because if we do not develop our own voice, and then listen to it, we are effectively at the mercy and direction of others. And perhaps those “others” are simply the collective squawks of a thousand know-nothing sparrows.

It is axiomatic that not all voices are equal: in fact, especially in modern times, there are many more voices not worth hearing, not worth heeding, than ever before. This is an unfortunate side-effect of the miraculous communication technologies that we have at our disposal.

However, those communication technologies and devices aren’t miraculous at all if they destroy our ability to discern the voices worth hearing, and the ability to ignore and discard the voices not worth hearing.

Not only are many voices not worth hearing, they should actively be ignored. To listen to them wastes our precious time, one of our most important resources, and worse: to fail to discard the voices that should be discarded risks poisoning us, muddying and drowning out our own voices, our own values, and the voices of those that have important things to say to us.

Achieve the Voice of the Crane

As karateka, we are the crane. 

We are the crane in our own head and spirit, but we are also the cranes in our families, among our friends, and in our communities, schools, and businesses.

We are the crane, because we must cut through the meandering chattering of the sparrows that are all around us, discern the path forward, and then act upon it.

We are the voice of the crane, and the voice of the crane is the considered singular voice of command that ends the chattering, pushes aside the voices that seek to drown us out, and simply moves forward.

We train hard to sharpen our voice, so that we may better hear it ourselves, in our own heads and hearts, but also that we may project our voice out, to the benefit of others.

Yes, as smart cranes (and karateka) we listen thoughtfully, with open minds and strong, disciplined focus. Even the smallest, most insignificant of sparrows may bring wisdom, and we listen for that wisdom with humility and curiosity.

But in the end, we are the crane.

Listen carefully, guard against the chattering of the sparrows, decide on your voice, and then dominate the sparrows around you with the blast of the crane.

Kanji/Katakana Meaning
crane [i.e.,the bird] (tsuru)
denotes possessive (no)
one (ichi) combined with 声, voice of authority
command, strong voice (hitakoe)

As a concept in karatedo, Tsuru no hitokoe 鶴の一声 is classified as a yojijukugo 四字熟語  — it is a four-kanji idiomatic concept (i.e., the literal meanings of the kanji do not express fully, or sometimes, not at all, the actual meaning of the phrase as a whole).

Editor's Note: Tsuru no hitokoe 鶴の一声 was chosen as the Kagami Biraki message for 2021, and presented in a lecture by Sensei on January 16, 2021 at Goju Karate in New York City. This concept was presented again at the Goju Karate NYC Dojo on 15 November 2023.