There are four main types of bending in the world of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”: Water, Earth, Air, and Fire. But bending isn’t as simple as it might imply. The series and its sequel, “Avatar: The Legend of Korra,” explore the complex origins of several different bending strains and subtypes.
As series creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino revealed to IGN, each bending style is based on a specific kung fu form. Waterbending, for example, is based on tai chi and works in concert with the moon. With proper training and skill, waterbenders can heal disease and injury. They can also bloodbend, allowing them to control other people’s bodies like puppets. Airbending is also multifaceted. Based on baguazhang, airbending allows some practitioners to fly (Zaheer) and project themselves into the Spirit World (Jinora). Firebending, rooted in Northern Shaolin kung fu, is strengthened by comets and weakened by eclipses. Prodigies like Azula can create lightning.
However, few styles are as explored as earthbending. Based on Hung Ga, earthbending is deeply sensory: Toph’s blindness actually gives her better perception than most earthbenders, because it roots her so deeply into her sense of touch. Eventually, Toph’s skill becomes so great that she invents metalbending. It’s so useful that in Korra’s time, metalbending practically counts as its own type of bending. It is used in manufacturing, law enforcement, architecture, and a wide variety of other fields.