"In the era before the Avatar, we bent not the elements, but the energy within ourselves. To bend another's energy, your own spirit must be unbendable, or you will be corrupted and destroyed."
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Before the Avatar came into existence and the separation of the four nations, the lion turtles bent the energy within humans and themselves. Eventually, humans were gifted the other four bending arts, and, over time, the knowledge to perform energybending was almost completely lost. The last living lion turtle kept the ability alive by escaping the lion turtle hunters and hiding. This lion turtle later passed down the ability to Avatar Aang, who used it to remove Fire Lord Ozai's firebending, and, twenty-eight years later, Yakone's ability to waterbend. After the Equalists' leader, Amon, severed Korra's bending, the spirit of Avatar Aang used energybending once again to restore her ability to bend water, earth, and fire and passed the knowledge of energybending onto her. Later, Korra used it to return Lin Beifong's ability to earthbend. The art of energybending has been imbued in past Avatars, though extremely rarely.
The capabilities of energybending are not well understood; what is known is that bending a person's life energy can impart them with knowledge instantly, remove one's bending completely, or restore one's bending. This bending art is dissimilar to the others because it is so perilous to the user, which is why so few have ever used it. In addition, unlike how the four bending arts are a complete necessity for the Avatar to learn, energybending is optional.
While searching for a way to defeat Fire Lord Ozai without killing him, Aang met with a lion turtle, and acknowledging the ancient wisdom of the creature, he sought its advice on how to stop the Fire Lord without taking his life.
The lion turtle answered, "The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void, but always yields to purifying light." The lion turtle brought up a paw, his two claws touching Aang's chest and forehead, causing a green light to illuminate and imparted the knowledge of the art to Aang.
Aang did not understand at first, but was comforted by this wisdom. During the battle with Ozai, Aang went into the Avatar State, and with the combined powers of the past Avatars and all four elements, the Avatar was ready to deal the final blow. At the last second, Aang regained control and exited the Avatar State, refusing to end the Fire Lord's life. Ozai mocked that even though he had all the power in the world, he was still weak. He attempted to attack Aang, who sensed the attack with seismic sense and pinned Ozai down again. In this moment, he realized the meaning of the advice of the lion turtle, and he decided to act on it.
The lion turtle told him that in the era before the Avatar existed, they did not bend the elements, but the energy within themselves. In order to bend another's life energy, their own spirit must be unbendable, or they would be corrupted and destroyed.
It was Aang's "true heart" and "true mind" tested in the heat of battle at the moment of striking down Ozai that allowed him to harness the wisdom of the lion turtle and successfully energybend Ozai.
As this was happening, Aang's entire body glowed white and blue, while Ozai's body shone orange and red, revealing his life energy. At first, Aang's spirit was nearly enveloped by Ozai's, but at the last moment, his spirit took over and covered Ozai, removing his firebending. This was Aang's revelation; if he truly believed he had no right to take a life and did not want to try, he would have to risk his own to defeat his enemy without killing him. In doing so, he was able to remain true to his beliefs, and he secured his final victory over the Fire Nation.
In 128 AG, the bloodbending criminal Yakone was put on trial before the United Republic Council for his crimes in Republic City; he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. However, using his hidden ability, he managed to escape by subduing everyone present in the courtroom. After regaining consciousness, Avatar Aang pursued him and thwarted his escape. Again, Yakone overpowered Aang with his bloodbending, and this time, attempted to kill the Avatar. In mortal peril, Aang entered the Avatar State and trapped Yakone in a mound of earth, allowing him to get close enough to take Yakone's bending away.
Southern Water Tribe compound
In 170 AG, after a confrontation with Amon in which he severed Avatar Korra's bending, the new Team Avatar, Lin Beifong, Tenzin, and his family traveled to the Southern Water Tribe compound to see if Katara would be able to restore Korra's bending. After Korra realized that Katara was unable to restore her connection to water, earth, and fire, she became depressed. While Korra was at her lowest point, Avatar Aang's spirit appeared beside her and proceeded to restore her bending, transferring to her the knowledge of energybending at the same time. Korra later used the technique on Lin Beifong, effectively restoring her earthbending. During the following months, Korra also restored the bending of those victimized by Amon in Republic City, with the exception of Triad criminals.
Tree of Time
When Korra was separated from Raava by Vaatu and Unalaq, who had fused into the Dark Avatar, Tenzin suggested to her that she enter the Tree of Time's cavity and bend the energy within herself. Korra did so and managed to tap in to the cosmic energy of the universe and her own spirit, emerging as a massive astral projection made of blue light, which she used to combat the Dark Avatar and extract Raava from him.
There are three known applications of energybending:
The ability to remove a person's bending permanently, unless restored by an energybender. The removal of a person's bending ability was shown when Aang removed Fire Lord Ozai's firebending and Yakone's waterbending.
The ability to bestow an individual with the power of bending. During the era of Raava, different lion turtles used this power to give inhabitants of their respective village a bending power when they left their home to gather food. In 171 AG, this ability was used by Avatar Aang to restore Avatar Korra's bending, and Korra herself subsequently used it to restore Lin Beifong's bending, both of which had been severed by Amon.
Tapping into the vast expanse of cosmic energy with the help of the Tree of Time, Korra was able to bend the energy within herself to create an astral projection of her spirit. Despite not having been bound by a corporeal form, the projection was able to both inflict and sustain great physical damage and utilize waterbending. This astral form was also capable of firing a beam of light similar to that of Vaatu.
Energybending is an extremely powerful and potentially dangerous technique. If the bender's spirit is even slightly weak, or bendable, they will be infected by the spirit of the one they are bending. As a result, the bender can be corrupted and even destroyed.
- † indicates deceased during the series.
- R indicates known ability to remove a person's bending.
- G indicates known ability to grant a person bending.
- A indicates known ability to create an astral projection.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
The Legend of Korra
- The concept of taking away/disabling bending abilities is similarly found in Chinese martial arts literatures where the protagonist "disables" the martial arts abilities of the villain as a merciful alternative to taking his/her life.
- The chanting that can be heard while the lion turtle speaks to Aang explaining how to energybend, and when the lion turtle first called Aang to sleepwalk/swim to him, is a Buddhist chant "Na Mu A Me Tuou Fu Shi Ne" – spellings vary.
- The position of the hands over the heart and forehead while practicing energybending is reflected in the lion turtle's reference to "the true heart" and "the true mind".
- At a Comic-Con panel in July 2008, Mike and Bryan jokingly named this type of bending "Anti-bending" and "Unbending", since it was never given a name in the series, referring to the ability stripping a person of their bending.
- While unnamed in both series, the term energybending has been used both on Nick.com and in Avatar Extras for Book Three: Fire.
- It has been stated by the creators that the idea had been devised even before the pilot was picked up. In 2003, the creators brainstormed several ideas that made it into the final season, one of which was that Ozai would not be killed by Aang; instead, he would be stripped of his powers using a technique available only to Avatars.
- When Aang used energybending for the first time, his body was shown as glowing bright blue while Ozai glowed orange. However, when he took away Yakone's bending, only his eyes and arrows glowed, as if he was entering into the Avatar State. Similarly, only Korra's eyes glowed while she performed energybending.
- Energybending first made an appearance in the final episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender and was again utilized, in a flashback, during the last episode of the first season of The Legend of Korra.
- Amon was able to duplicate energybending's ability to remove a person's bending through a very unique form of bloodbending. This makes bloodbending the only other known way to strip a bender of his/her bending.
- One can inherit a parent's bending even if said parent had their bending removed through energybending prior to conception, as seen with Noatak and Tarrlok, who both inherited Yakone's waterbending, and even the ability to bloodbend without the full moon.
- Energybending is the only bending art that can be performed by spirits, without them fully manifesting through a medium.