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Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender Can Offer More Than Just Bending

Netflix’s reboot of Avatar: The Last Airbender can show viewers the real-life martial arts basis behind element bending without strictly using bending itself. Avatar’s origin story of Aang introduced element bending as the ability of individuals from each of the Four Nations to control the element corresponding to their nation, also seen in the sequel series The Legend of Korra. With water, earth, fire, and air as the four elements (with sub-sets like bloodbending and metalbending also developing later), there is a different methodology behind each element that has its roots in Chinese martial arts.

Specifically, Tai Chi is used for water, Hung Ga for earth, Northern Shaolin for fire, and Baquazhang for air, with some additional use of Southern Praying Mantis implemented in Toph Beifong’s style of earthbending. Avatar did something extremely unique in animation by using actual martial arts movements for the element bending, orchestrated on the show by Sifu Kisu and Manuel Rodriguez. It was a feature of the Avatar franchise that 2010’s The Last Airbender can count among its blunders and which Netflix’s Avatar has a second chance to do, but the martial arts of the show could also be equally compelling with some degree of it being shown without element bending.

With such distinct and diverse forms of Chinese martial arts as the foundation for each element on Avatar, showing them in some fight scenes or training sequences without their attached elements could help paint the fullest picture of what bending in the Avatar universe is. Both Avatar fans and martial arts lovers would have an added layer of the Avatar reboot to really enjoy, which still just scratches the surface. In giving attention to martial arts minus bending, Netflix’s Avatar provide the most comprehensive showcase of bending that the Avatar franchise has ever had.

Avatar still created compelling non-bender characters like Katara’s older brother Sokka and Suki of the Kyosi Warriors. Characters lacking in the ability to bend elements need not be on the sidelines of the Avatar reboot’s action scenes, as they were never on the original Avatar series, and showing them as strong warriors in their own right can keep that balance of Avatar in place. It could even add to Avatar’s action scenes in pitting benders against non-benders such as chi-blockers who can counter their opponents, or having benders temporarily fighting with their bending abilities removed.

Avatar still created compelling non-bender characters like Katara’s older brother Sokka and Suki of the Kyosi Warriors. Characters lacking in the ability to bend elements need not be on the sidelines of the Avatar reboot’s action scenes, as they were never on the original Avatar series, and showing them as strong warriors in their own right can keep that balance of Avatar in place. It could even add to Avatar’s action scenes in pitting benders against non-benders such as chi-blockers who can counter their opponents, or having benders temporarily fighting with their bending abilities removed.

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