In the show Avatar: The Last Airbender, an award-winning animated television series that aired on Nickelodeon, bending is a form of elemental mysticism, where a person is able to control and manipulate a certain element. In the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the four elements that can be used for Bending are water, earth, fire, and air. Each element is associated with a different type of bending: Waterbending, Earthbending, Firebending, and Airbending, respectively. Furthermore, each type of bending is based on a different type of martial arts, and each type of bending has its own associated culture and technique in the show. If one is a bender, one can only bend their native element, except for the Avatar who can bend all four elements.
Waterbenders originally learned waterbending from the Moon. The ancestors of the Water Tribe noticed the push and pull effect the Moon has on the tides of the ocean. Eventually, these first waterbenders learned how to manipulate water themselves. Waterbending is the only bending art without a spiritual animal teacher, as the waterbenders learned the art of pushing and pulling water from the gravitational push and pull of the Moon.
Waterbending is based on Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art that features slow movements and elegant forms that evoke the feel of flowing water. Waterbending's strongest asset lies within its defensive capabilities. Unlike some other bending disciplines, waterbending focuses on turning an opponent's own strength against themselves, rather than direct strikes. Since water can exist in different physical states, waterbenders can freeze, melt, evaporate, sublimate or condense water at will. The ability to alter the physical state of water gives Waterbenders an array of defensive, evasive and offensive techniques in battle such as encasing an opponent in ice, hiding behind a wall of mist, surfing on bodies of water on a platform of ice, and battering enemies with lashing whips and waves. Waterbenders can also manipulate the molecular cohesion of water for cutting and grabbing objects or running on water. While a bender's victory in battle is usually based on skill and technique, a Waterbender gains a notable advantage or disadvantage over other bending arts depending on the amount of water in their vicinity.
Waterbenders are more powerful at night than during the day due to their spiritual connection with the Moon. Waterbenders are at their most powerful during the Full Moon, and are powerless during a lunar eclipse or when the Moon Spirit is in danger.
While travelling Waterbenders carry water skins full of water to bend, a skilled waterbender is able to extract the water from plants for more effective utilization, albeit leaving behind withered, dessicated remains of the former plant life. Waterbenders can also use the water from the air, their sweat or the water underground to waterbend.
Bloodbending is the ultimate Waterbending technique that allows Waterbenders to bend the water within living creatures, giving a waterbender complete control over it. The technique is only possible under the power of a Full Moon.
Humans first learned earthbending by observing and imitating the Badgermoles, large subterranean creatures that use earthbending to see and interact with the world. The first people to learn earthbending were two lovers from warring villages who used the art to meet in secret beneath the mountain that separated their people.
Earthbending is generally based on the Hung Gar style of Kung Fu, which features heavily rooted stances and strong kicks and punches. The martial art is based on the movements of animals, among them the Tiger and the Crane. The Tiger represents Hard Power, while the crane embodies Soft Power. There are exceptions to this facet, as the blind earthbender, Toph, uses a style based on Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu. Unlike other bending disciplines, earthbending stresses the aspect of neutral jin, which involves listening and waiting for the right moment to attack. Toph uses this discipline having learned it directly from Badgermoles, and teaches this form to Aang.This discipline also allows Toph and Aang to feel minute vibrations in the earth when in direct contact and use these vibrations as a kind of radar, allowing them to detect other people's positions, movements, and even heartbeats. Toph also uses this sense for lie detection .
Earthbenders are known to stand their ground. More skilled earthbenders absorb and intercept attacks before overwhelming the opponent with superior force. Some can tunnel through the earth to out-maneuver their foes. Earthbenders have been shown to use objects to augment their bending.
While a bender's victory in battle is usually based on skill and technique, an Earthbender gains a notable advantage or disadvantage over other bending arts depending on the amount of earth in their vicinity. However, Earthbending is not limited to rock or soil alone. An earthbender additionally can manipulate other earth-based substances; these include mud, slurry, sand, meteors, crystals, coal, and even metal. .
While the Sun is the origin and inspiration for firebending, the Dragons were the firebenders that taught man how to firebend. The philosophy of firebending from when it was first created differs radically from that of the present-day Fire Nation. Originally representing warmth, energy and life, the Fire Nation's is fueled by rage and anger. Firebending in itself is not totally devoted to unleashing the power of fire on opponents. In actuality, the focus is placed upon balance. Firebending hinges on mental stability such as inner calm, discipline, emotional stability and physical stability such as a firm balanced form, breath control and general good health. Firebenders are more powerful during the day than the night due to solar sympathy. Firebenders lose their power to bend during a solar eclipse. But, when a Comet is near, a firebender's power is increased unimaginably, as if they were in the presence of 100 suns. This gives them the ability to fly, produce pillars of fire, and gigantic fire blasts. Sozin first used the comet to wipe out all the Air Nomads, and thus beginning the war. Ozai then attempted to use it to wipe out everyone in the Earth Kingdom with it, but he was stopped by Aang and his allies.
Though waterbenders are most powerful during the night, firebenders can still use their powers to almost full potential.
Firebending moves are based mainly on the style of Northern Shaolin. Northern Shaolin Kung Fu features quick, successive and flamboyant attacks, making firebending the most aggressive of the four bending arts. Breath control is one of the first things taught to young firebenders because without control of breath, they are more prone to lose control of the fire they are creating or controlling, leading to disastrous results.
Some skilled Firebenders are able to project flames out of their feet, resulting in short periods of flight. During Sozin's Comet, when a Firebender is at their most powerful, this ability is enhanced and they are able to sustain full flight.
Combustion Man displayed a very unique form of Firebending, the ability to superheat air into a thin beam which results in large explosions. No other character has displayed this ability and it is unlikely that any other can, as the power appears to be connected to the eye-shaped tattoo on his forehead.
Airbending is based on the Ba Gua style of martial arts. Ba Gua is known for its constantly circular movements, which makes it difficult for opponents to attack directly. The practitioner uses his own momentum as a weapon, constantly building up inertia for explosive counterattacks that evoke the unpredictabile nature and explosive force of the wind. While being the most dynamic of the bending arts, the style lacks fatal finishing moves, being an almost entirely defensive art.
Airbenders have the ability to enhance their movements during battle. They can take giant leaps into the air, move at high speeds, run on water and vertical surfaces, glide on air currents to slow their descent and even spin around like a tornado to move quicker and confuse opponents. They can also create cushions of air to soften and blunt the falls of heavy objects. Airbenders can project powerful gusts of wind from their mouths.
Master Airbenders can create vortices to disorient opponents and tornadoes to attack opponents. Avatar-level Airbenders can generate the mighty winds of a hurricane that can affect entire landscapes and sustain flight by surrounding themselves in spheres of air. Airbenders are also capable of projecting solidified constructs of air to knock an opponent off balance or to provide defense from projectile weapons.
Aang's signature technique is the Air Scooter, which he invented. The technique is performed by bending air into a sphere and balancing on it 'like a top'. The invention of the Air Scooter earned Aang the rank of master Airbender. As his signature technique, Aang has made use of the Air Scooter in numerous episodes, usually to either overcome vertical surfaces or temporarily levitate in the air.
Energybending, the bending of energy, is the oldest of the bending arts and predates the Avatar, the Four Nations and other bending arts. Before the era of the Avatar, people didn't bend the elements, but instead, people bent the energy within themselves. This led to the creation of the bending arts. At the time of Sozin's Comet, the Avatar is the only known person who can do this. On the eve of Sozin's Comet, a giant Lion Turtle revealed to Aang this truth. In order to bend another person's energy, the bender's spirit must be "unbendable." If the bender's spirit is "bendable", and they attempt to bend another's energy, they will be corrupted by the other's energy and be destroyed. Aang uses this technique to defeat Fire Lord Ozai without killing him, by permanently removing his Firebending abilities.