Without a doubt, one of my all-time favourite TV-aired series is Avatar: The Last Airbender. The animation is a blend of anime and western domestic cartoons, with the result being a fluent, dynamic, superbly vibrant visual feast.
The story is set in a world heavily inspired by Asian art and mythology, where people have the ability to manipulate one of the four elements (Water, Earth, Fire and Air), through a form of martial arts known as “Bending”. In addition to the focus on these four classic elements in the series, the fighting styles associated with each element are all taken from different styles of Chinese martial arts.
For “waterbending”, Tai Chi was used, namely for its focus on alignment, body structure and visualisation; and if you have watched any of the episodes where you see the waterbenders in action, that chosen art suits the element perfectly; movement of the body and constant visualisation would be key to maintaining control of a substance as pliant and variable as water.
For “earthbending”, Hung Gar was chosen as it has a lot of firmly rooted stances and powerful strikes that effectively present the solid nature of the earth. The idea of requiring strength in stance, and abrupt, directional movements works well under the concept that something as rigid and heavy as earth can be manipulated by a being equipped only with his/ her physical and mental energy.
For “firebending”, Northern Shaolin was an ideal choice, as it worked with strong arm and leg movements. When it comes to the element of fire, external force needs to be potent, so that the bender directs the element out away from them with the right amount of velocity so as to lessen the chance of inflicting personal injury.
For “airbending”, Ba Gua was chosen for its dynamic circular movements and quick directional changes, which are perfectly personified keys that a person would use to control air. Air is the most encompassing and easiest to manoeuvre of all the elements. It stands to reason then, that a bender of such an element would need to execute rapid, agile motions to draw the element around them for the required control.
Now, you may be wondering where I am going with this. As I am currently watching the series through a second time, my creative mind is once again stirring excitedly over the whole concept of elemental manipulation. A lot of fantasy stories have certain laws and skills revolving around the command of elements. Most of the time, it’s called magic, and I find Avatar’s creative spin on the ability most appealing, not to mention fresh and clever.
But not only does the series draw strength from its idea of controlling the four elements, it also delves into the very fabrics of each culture and traits associated with the peoples of the four kingdoms that use those elements. It very nearly associates the qualities of each element, to the four foundational character traits of human nature: Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholy and Phegmatic.
Each of the four nations value different ideals and strengths. The Fire Nation holds in high regard ambition and resolve, which seems quite characteristic of the element they wield (an ambitious and powerful force). The Earth Kingdom brandishes the principles of diversity and endurance, again distinctions that can easily be aligned with earth (a very steady and varied substance). The Water Tribes value community and the strength of adaptability, and once again those are qualities that remind many of water (a substance that can adapt in any climate, and move to change with its surroundings). And last but not least, the Air Nomads, who detached themselves from worldly concerns, in order to seek peace and freedom; ideals that obviously closely attribute to the element of air.
And in speaking of all this elemental and personality stuff, one of the thoughts I wish to leave you all with is a reminder that the world is wonderfully diverse – and the people, even more so. But in order to better understand yourself and your place within it, you need to keep an open mind and learn to understand others as well. We are all different, but none of those differences make us wrong. No one is better for one personality trait, and worse for another. It is who we are – whether earth, fire, water or air.
And in closing off I shall take a quote from Season Two of the series Avatar: The Last Airbender:
“It is important to take wisdom from many different places. If we take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale. Understanding others, the other elements, the other nations, will help you become whole.”
Perhaps you may be curious as to which of the four elements would best be suited to you, and your more prominent personality traits? Well, I went ahead a designed a little quiz, with just that question in mind! Feel free to click on the link below and have fun finding out which element you’d be the best at bending!
WHICH TYPE OF BENDER WOULD YOU BE?