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The Bending Arts appears in the animated fantasy TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

Basic theory[]

Inside the human body, there is an energy flow, known as chi, flowing through paths in the body (known as chi paths). Some people are born as benders, meaning that with training, they can extend the influence of their chi beyond their body to manipulate a specific element decided by what type of bender they are. There are four forms of bending a person can be born to, corresponding to the Greek classic elements water, earth, fire and air. A person can only possess one of the four bending abilities, never more. The only exception is a person known as the Avatar, a single reincarnating soul that possess ability in all four elements.

Each form of bending is expressed through precise physical movements of one's body, reminiscent of martial arts, each bending art having its own developed style, though variations exist. Most benders performs bending this way, but there have been examples of benders who could bend with only minimal movement, sometimes not even including their arms or legs which otherwise make up most of the moves in bending. Beyond that, there is even examples of benders who bended without any physical movement at all, just using their force of will. From this, it can be inferred that the manipulation of an element is solely a product of using one's chi beyond their body, which can be done through thought alone but actual physical movement achieves the same result in a way that is more easy for the bender.

Benders are born with a certain aptitude for their bending art, but it seems that what matters most is the extent and depth of a bender's personal training. A bender born with weak aptitude but having trained extensively will overpower a bender born with strong aptitude that neglected properly training.

Bending ability seems to be genetic, but the rules are not so clear. Family lines of benders is common, but some benders were born to non-bender parents, and children to two benders might not possess bending ability. No matter the lineage, it is still only possible to possess one form of bending, even if one's parents are different kinds of benders to each other.



Waterbending manipulates the motion and state of water (basically what is referred to as hydrokinesis in other real world fiction). Waterbenders can control the shape of a body of liquid water, as well as levitate it or move it. They can change water between its different states, solid ice, liquid water and gaseous vapor, though it seems they only can manipulate shape and movement when the water is liquid.

Waterbending movements are based on the philosophy of taking the energy of an opponents attack and turn it back against them. Waterbending ability is rendered useless in the absence of water, though insightful and highly skilled waterbenders have discovered that water can be drawn from the humidity of the air or even from living things, such as plants.

Waterbending possess a lunar sympathy (based upon how the moon controls the tides of the planet). It is stronger during the night, being the strongest at the night of a full moon. A lunar eclipse negates waterbending ability.

Known sub-skills of waterbending include healing, plantbending, bloodbending and spiritbending.

In healing, the waterbender can use water to effect repairs to the body, theirs or others, probably through directing chi flows, healing wounds and curing illnessess. Useful in many situations, waterbending healing has a limited scope. It cannot treat birth defects, for example, and has seldom effects upon scarring or truly fatal injuries. While healing ability can be used to feel chi paths, it is unable to heal damaged chi paths.

Spiritbending is a variation of healing with spiritual knowledge added. It allows for a waterbender to manipulate the energy states of spirits between positive and negative states, creating balance or imbalance within the target, by encircling them with water.

In plantbending, the waterbender can manipulate the large water content in plants to control the movements of the plants themselves. Some waterbenders simply extract all the water from plants to use it for normal waterbending, rather than manipulating the plants.

Bloodbending is manipulating the water inside animal organisms, including people. Bloodbending allows for controlling the movements of other's bodies, controlling them like puppets. Bloodbending has also showed the ability to sever chi paths, which might affect bending ability. Bloodbending was initially only believed to work at a night of a full moon, when waterbending ability is at its peak, but since then there have been examples of bloodbenders able to use bloodbending at other times as well. In all of these cases the bloodbenders had practiced and experimented for years, which might imply that initial use of bloodbending is still only possible during the full moon, before proficency sets in. The difference in difficulty between plantbending and bloodbending could be attributed to the inherent differences between plant cells and animal cells.


Earthbending manipulates the motion and shape of mineral stone (basically what is referred to as geokinesis in other real world fiction). Earthbenders can reshape, move or levitate stone. Earthbending embodies the philosophy of standing your ground, absorbing and intercepting attacks and wait until the right moment to strike and overwhelm their opponents with fortitude and strength. Earthbending's strength lies equally in both offense and defense, unlike any of the other bending arts. Earthbending ability is rendered useless if the bender is separated from earth minerals, whether rock, sand or coal.

Known sub-skills of earthbending include seismic sense, metalbending, and lavabending.

Seismic sense is using earthbending ability to perceive an environment by feeling the vibrations through the ground. Similar to sonar and echolocation, seismic sense enables the practitioner to detect earthen objects and objects in contact with earth when out of sight, providing a specific map of the user's surroundings. Not all earthbenders are aware of this technique; it was discovered by a blind earthbender, using it to compensate for their lack of sight.

Metalbending allows for an earthbender to manipulate metal, controlling it indirectly by manipulating the trace amounts of regular earth minerals left as impurities in the metal during their manufacturing. It was discovered by the detection of those earth impurities using seismic sense. Metalbending does not work on metals that lack such impurities, such as pure platinum plating.

Lavabending is the application of controlling molten rock and the application of turning regular rock into molten rock (which bears similarities to how waterbenders can change solid ice into liquid water). It is a specialized skill that not all earthbenders seem to naturally possess. Aside from regular earthbending uses of the lava as if it were ordinary rock, its heat properties allow for additional uses.


Firebending manipulates the motion and shape of fire (basically what is referred to as pyrokinesis in other real world fiction). Besides being able to control existing flames in the vicinity, firebenders can create fire by using their internal body heat. Firebending is thus the only elemental bending art that is not dependent upon an external source of something to manipulate. Some advanced firebenders have shown the ability to manipulate pure heat energy with no flame involved.

Firebending movements are simple and direct, based on aggressive movements and constant forward action, being strong in offense but lacking in defense. Firebending possess a solar sympathy (based upon how the sun is the largest heat source in nature, at least from the perspective of planet-bound people). It is stronger during the day, being at its strongest at noon. A solar eclipse negates firebending ability. It was shown that the temporary passage of a firey comet close to the planet greatly increased the power of firebending. It is also stronger in warmer climates, such as near the planet's equator, and during the warmer periods of the year, being strongest in the summer, probably especially at the summer solstice. Cold temperatures reduce firebending ability, and might be used to detain firebenders if it is cold enough for the firebender in question.

Firebending has a strong connection to the firebenders mental state. Firstly, a firebender must possess a strong drive ("an inner fire") to prevent their firebending from being weak. Secondly, anger, rage and other intense emotions can amplify the power of firebending, but it will also reduce the firebenders control, potentially causing devestating damage. A true firebending master must thus possess true self-control.

Known sub-skills of firebending include combustionbending, generating lightning and redirecting lightning.

Combustionbending is a form of telekinetic firebending. Unlike conventional firebending, it doesn't involve producing a flame. It consists of the ability to channel chi through the forehead, superheating the surrounding air and producing a powerful beam that explodes upon contact with a solid surface. Combustionbending requires good chi flow and a properly calibrated focus in order to be effective, as disrupting it can have fatal consequences. Despite superheating the air directly around the practitioner, the technique does not appear to harm the user unless the explosion occurs in the immediate vicinity. Only two firebenders are known to have been able to use combustionbending.

Some firebenders can generate lightning from their fingertips. This is described as a firebender, being aware of the ambient energy in the world arround them, first separating the energies of yin and yang of that ambient energy, thus creating an imbalance. When nature tries to restore the balance, the yin and yang collides, and by providing a path in that moment (probably a chi path), lightning is generated by the firebenders effort. (The description implies that the firebender separates positive and negative electric potential in the neutral matter around them, creating an electric charge that becomes an electric current when it finds a conductive path.) While a firebender can separate this positive and negative energies from each other, once divided, they possess no control over it; if the provide a path, they can guide the lightnings direction, but they cannot manipulate electric energy like they can manipulate fire.

Even fewer firebenders can redirect lightning, a technique discovered by applying waterbending movement techniques into regular firebending. By creating a chi flow through their body that acts like a conductive path, such a firebender can take in electric energy through one arm, guide it down the arm into the stomach, and then out of the other arm. It is stressed that passing the lightning through the stomach while avoiding it reaching the heart is crucial, since passing lightning through the heart could be lethal. Failure to perform the redirecting properly seems to cause damage, probably by the lightning causing internal damage when it encounters electric resistance from one's tissues outside of the chi paths.


Airbending manipulates the flow of air (basically what is referred to as aerokinesis in other real world fiction). Airbending embodies the philosophy of freedom of movement and evasion, lacking in offensive movements but possessing great defense, and is considered the most dynamic of the bending arts. In the history of airbending, two airbenders unlocked the power of true flight (as opposed to air flow assisted gliding), and one airbender unlocked a form of spirit projection.


Besides the four elemental bending arts, there is also a form of bending known as energybending. While the other bending arts use chi to manipulate the elements, energybending bends and manipulates the energy within oneself or others (probably chi itself). Unlike other forms of bending, energybending is not genetic. Since it was lost in ancient times, only a few have learned to use it besides its original masters, all of them incarnations of the Avatar.

Energybending can be used to bestow or remove bending ability in the other four bending arts (no person besides the Avatar can have more than one type of bending though), restore bending ability destroyed by severed chi paths, instill instantaneous knowledge, and create astral projections. It has also been shown to be able to affect energy of spirit origin. Energybending is very dangerous for its user. If the user's spirit possess any weakness of resolve (being bendable) when manipulating the energy of another being, the spirit of the being they are trying to bend will infect them, which might mean corruption or even destruction of one's spirit.

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