This wll be the third installment (links to the first and second ones) of the four-part series of entries, in which I will be analysing the elements as they're presented in the world of Avatar. Once again, I want to note that the below breakdown is not strict, canonical information - it is my personal interpretation and theories based on the evidence, conversations and, primarily, the lore of the universe, first and foremost meant to flesh out discussion between us fans, as well as help paint a good picture of how the bending arts work. Some fellow fans are already gone now that quarantine is ending, so let this be a treat for us few who are still here. Please feel free to have questions, post your own theories with the opportunity. I'm happy to say I've sparked some interest into people watching the series doing this, so hey!
The Element of Fire.
Firebending, like the other bending arts, owes its origins to the ancient, divine creatures known as the Lion Turtles. Since the beginning of time, these creatures would serve as the protectors of humantiy, temporarily gifting the mortals with the ability to control the elements in times of need. The chosen life forms permanently granted firebending were the dragons. The dragons would breathe fire to bend it, their fierce, quick and strong movements would later mark the ways of firebending as used by humans. Avatar Wan studied under these creatures, and learned how to use fire as an extension of his body, rather than a simple tool for survival.
Unlike the other elements, fire is energy and life, in and by itself; the flame has a heart, and a beat. To tame it, is to tame life; such is the burden of a firebender, rather than directing the element, they must control it. Before producing fire, one will first learn restraint, otherwise, the very energy they are called to manipulate will overpower, and destroy themselves and everything around them.
"Water is cool and soothing, earth is steady and stable. But fire, fire is alive, it breathes, it grows. Without a bender, a rock will not throw itself. But fire will spread and destroy everything in its path, if one does not have the will to control it."Master Jeong Jeong (The Last Airbender: Book 1, "The Deserter")
Fire is the element of power. According to Iroh's teachings, the people of the Fire Nation are known for their desire and will, much like the energy required to achieve what they want. And it takes no more than one leader lacking restraint, yet presenting overwhelming drive, for the Fire Nation's lust for power to spread, not unlike how their flame spreads. The history of this Nation is filled with warfare, their reputation preceding them. Long before Firelord Sozin's time, the military would be feared, decades after the end of the War, the aggressive nature of the firebenders stigmatised them. Forseeable that a firebender lacking in drive will lose power, and one with piece of heart, and mind alike, will peak. Even so, the drive does not equal imperialism. It took the Firelord's drive for democracy, and balance to flourish, for the world.
The Fire Nation insignia, the stylized flame standing above two opposite ends and tapering towards a top point, represents both the power, and lethality, of the element. The bladed tips symbolise the threatening forces of the Nation, and the trident like shape reflects upon the monarchical ways of its rulers. The precise lining of the emblem hints to a life of order and military-like control; the flame burns strong, but tamed.
It is interesting that water, the natural opposite element to fire, is also the one posing the greatest similarities to it. Like waterbending, firebending is directly tied to the geographical and climatic conditions of a terrain. A firebender's power is at its peak during the day, drawing energy from the sun, or from high temperatures and major heat sources, such as lightning. Likewise, the full moon and extreme cold can both weaken the bender, with a solar eclipse depriving them of their power entirely. Expectedly so, the Fire Nation is built right on the planet's equator, even more within volcanic environments, where the firebenders are at their most powerful.
The "Great Comet", or Sozin's Comet, named after Firelord Sozin himself after the Genocide of the Air Nomads, passing by the earth's atmosphere every one hundred years will grant a firebender "the power of a hundred suns". It is said that a firebender who has experienced the effects of the comet, will have a longer lifespan than the common man. The dominant season of this bending discipline is the summer, during which a greater amount of firebenders are born.
The Fire Nation was the most technologically advanced Nation on earth during the Hundred Year War, and in large part, this title is connected to the bending art available to its people. Their fearsome Navy would equip the warships with trebuchets, large, metalic catapults fixed onto the ships, launching boulders set on fire by the crew's benders. In support of the ground troops, powerful benders would enter tanks and fire large, sustained blasts at the opposing armies. The most powerful of the Fire Nation's weapons however, were also its most advanced means of transportation. The base plans of the Mechanist for the first hot air balloons would later be adopted by the Fire Nation, and further developed into enriched, powerful airships designed for heavy warfare.
The finest defensive system of the Fire Nation Capital consisted of the Great Gates of Azulon. Built during Firelord Azulon's reign, the titanic, steel dragons would support large net like walls, raised from deep under the ocean and subsequently set ablaze in the sight of enemy forces approaching, separating the coast from the outter borders. The Gates were considered impenetrable until the invention of the submarine.
The power of firebending can be further amplified by the use of traditional, lethal weaponry, most notably the Broadsword, reminiscent of the power and control the bender possesses over fire. Unarmed, however, two firebenders will duel as part of a centuries old tradition known as the Agni Kai, during which they would test their firebending skills, with one establishing dominance over the other. The common result would be the losing side's death, not unlike one historically notable tradition of hunting down dragons. A master having defeated one of the creatures, would earn the honorary title of "the Dragon" themselves, and their bending would be considered legendary. This soon led to the species becoming almost extinct in the name of the Firelord, the tyrannical leader of the Nation, whose power would be signified by the flames inside the Royal Palace's throne room.
And while evidence of the Fire Nation's dark, militaristic culture is unquestionable, their bending discipline is not to be examined solely through this scope. Fire has been large part of spirituality and ceremonial acts within the Nation's borders. The Fire Sages protecting the Temple of Avatar Roku would control the pathways to the temple's most prominent rooms through firebending, and the elders would later develop an energy reading technique, an advanced form of firebending.
The Sun Warriors, on the other hand, a spiritual tribe consisting of the first firebenders, thought to have disappeared for thousands of years, would maintain a powerful flame, burning bright for ages to come, given to man by the dragons in the beginning of time. The true meaning of firebending, passed down to them by the creatures, would be gifted to those deemed worthy by the masters, Ran and Shaw, the last living of their kind during the War. Firebending is but energy inside the bender; the sun fueling the chi in their body, becoming fire.
The people of the Fire Nation would feed on rice, noodles, lychee nuts. More than any Nation, they'd prefer drinking tea. Firebending would be an important part of their cuisine, outside of a mildly natural source of heat and light. With the technological advancements after the Hundred Year War, elemental masters dedicated to industrial tasks would be of much higher value than they were in times of constant military and combat needs. Much moreso upon the founding of the United Republic, select, talented firebenders would operate inside Republic City's Power Plants, channeling electricity* to power the Democratic City. Even outside of everyday tasks however, the art became an effective tool for entertainment in the hands of a skilled firebender. The annualy held Fire Festival makes for a unique demonstration of the Fire Nation's merry traditions, and their expertise in fireworks.
*refer to the below section
The central influence of firebending is the Northern Shaolin kung fu style. It's a very strong, dynamic style that uses powerful hand and leg movements. This bending art is unique in that it does not involve the manipulation of a pre-existing element, rather an element the benders produce themselves. A firebender will inhale, and then generate fire upon exhaling.
"Firebending draws from several ancient martial arts. Each art has its own specific moves and creates different results. The Xing Yi incorporates strikes from the classic "Seven Stars": hands, feet, knees, elbows, hips, shoulders and head. The Southern Dragon Claw, like a dragon swooping down on its prey, [...] has techniques from seizing and holding that utilize the hand. The Northern Shaolin was developed by the Shaolin monks of ancient China, this "longfist" style emphasizes kicking over hand fighting. Kicks are extented as far as possible without compromising balance."Avatar: The Last Airbender, "Ancient Martial Arts Inlfuence" (The Lost Scolls: Fire)
Strongly emphasizing the positive jing, a firebender will favor overwhelming the opposition through speed, and power. Three descrete firebending styles are recognised upon retrospect: the commonly used, base Shaolin, the Chaquan, and the original firebending style of the Sun Warriors. Key aspects of each style are common within all three, each one, however, shows preference towards particular traits over others. As such, the Chaquan and the Sun Warriors' styles are best examined as branches of the common style.*
Long range techniques, quick advances and retreats, kicking and leaping techniques, agility, quickness, and aggressive attacks, they are featured in all three styles, but much moreso in the common one, strongly evident in the Fire Nation's military, and most members of the Royal Family. Footwork is generally preferred over upper body movement. The importance of balance is highlighted in firebending duels, as each party attemps to break the other's root and knock them down. At closer range, however, the style adopts more noticable forms of the Xing Yi and the Southern Dragon Claw, implementing the hands for linear, yet explosive, bursts of power. Typical stances invovle the legs wide open, the hands bent upwards, one above the other, open palms that close upon attack.
The Chaquan, also known as the Longfist style, is present in all firebending. The principle of the style, however, is only evident in Princess Azula's own style; fitting for the sole practitioner of this style to be the sole prominent, female figure of firebending mastery. Unlike in the Northern Shaolin, where nearly every strike is delivered with the purpose of extreme power output, in the Chaquan, attacks are produced in waves, progressively building one single, powerful strike.
Stylistically, the Chaquan is considered one of the most elegant of the martial arts. The substancial implementation of impressive acrobatic maneuvers and aerial combat is a noteworthy trait of the Longfist, and only one of the aspects rendering it efficient in circumventing foremost physical, and circumstancial disadvantages. The hands are often facing opposite directions, for increased awareness, while sweeping moves of both the lower and the upper body alike are famously apparent. The flames are channeled through the feet, fingertips, or an open palm, for more focused, precise force. It is of great interest to observe the ways in which the style suffers in Azula's hands as she descents to mental insanity.
Whirling, circular hand motions are critical in firebending, most notably resulting to stong defence, and an expectedly powerful offence. Bending the flames spherically, the firebender will amplify the energy, and subsequent force, of a technique, as they experience the sensation of heat all around their body, breathe it in, and project it outward.
"The Sun Warriors themselves showed me new breathing techniques, but the most exciting thing they taught me was breathing fire! I was belching smoke for months afterward, but it was worth it."Master Iroh (Avatar: The Last Airbender, "Legacy of the Fire Nation")
Breathing becomes of greater importance the deeper one might look in the bending art's history. Having mastered the style of the Sun Warriors, as much as the Breath of Fire, Iroh of the White Lotus utilised uniquely deep inhaling and exhaling in firebending. The signature form of this style, titled that of the Dancing Dragon, is unironically reminiscent to the movements of the homonymous creatures.
The fierce, quick, choreographed sequence allows for a balanced, economical advance, resulting to a steady defensive, and an unorthodox offensive style of fighting.
* Noteworthy that, historically, the Sun Warriors presented the first of the styles, with the rise of the militaristic nature of the Fire Nation breeding the more direct, and aggressive style of the Shaolin. Through this scope, the Chaquan can be described as advanced, Northern kung fu with incorporated elements of the Shaolin monks' style.
The bending world acts much like a spectrum to the four elements - the elements are universally connected, with each one contributing to balance, a natural order. It is only natural that each of the arts would influence the other. Akin to how the fine arts can never be perceived outside of a holistic scope, neither can the bending arts.
Interestingly, firebending is greately influenced by the rest of the arts, in spite of the racial discrimination evident in the Nation's modern history. And as one major weakness of the element is the lack of steady defence, a firebender will borrow forms of the Hung Gar to execute defensive techniques, or to recover from aerial exchanges, not unlike an earthbender will.
The firebending technique Iroh invented studying the waterbenders - the skill to redirect lightning* - is incorporating the philosophy of Tai Chi at its finest. Fascinating aspect of this skill is that the polar opposite element of water advanced to a higher level upon an open minded firebender respecting the wisdom that the four elements are but one entity split into four different forces. The principle of traditional waterbending proves so powerful in this technique that it allows the bender to take control of power they themselves cannot generate, and, no less, sustain it. On that respect, waterbenders have developed the art of healing, guiding chi energy within a body directly, which appears to have inspired an energy reading technique utilised by the spiritually adept Fire Sages, meant to detect and repair spiritual damage in a soul.
Firebending itself has offered a fine amount to the rest of the bending world; the sub skill of earthbending, lavabending, is executed as a combined technique of earth and firebending, inherently gifted to few earthbenders of mixed heritage. It is no secret that water, earth, air, they directly utilise firebending forms on no occasion. These elements, however, the antithetical one moreso than any, have been aided by the fundamental attributes characterising firebending, resulting to some of the most prominent bending demonstrations throughout history. The importance of breathing is emphasized in waterbending; like the firebender inhales to feel the high temperatures, uses it to convert their energy to flames, a waterbender will inhale, manipulate the lower temperatures, exhale to produce, and control water in all its forms.
By nature, firebending can be used at any time or place, as opposed to waterbending, restricted to given terrains, which present a source of water, of any kind. The imperalistic attitudes of the Fire Nation quickly led to the waterbenders being pressed outside the Poles, the Southern Tribe's benders soon becoming extinct upon the firebenders' raids, in the time between 1 and 20 A.G. Waterbending masters would journey outside their home, developing resourceful techniques, necessary for their survival. Hama of the South invented the technique of drawing water out of thin air particles, and the skill that came to known as bloodbending. These skills were further advanced by psychic waterbenders, Ming Hua of the Red Lotus, and Yakone's bloodline, psychic bending itself being a technique rising within the practice of firebending, the only one of the arts in which the bender manipulates their own energy directly.*
*refer to the below section
The element of power, fire is but energy, shaped by its guide, the bender, into focused, destructive effect, an effect of varying forms, and increased efficiency, as the firebender masters the sub skills - heat, lightning, combustion, energy manipulation. Unlike the blaze, a cloud of steam, a bolt of lightning, a supressed, superheated beam of energy, a guideful flame, they will not spread. They are the ultimately tamed, flawlessly channeled, pure forms of fire. And as the purpose of the bending art is to guide the energy, restrain the fire, and generate lethal force, these techniques are the epitome of firebending prowess.
The energy reading technique, posing striking resemblence to waterending's healing in method, focuses on the spiritual energy of the subject. As such, the central differing aspect between the two skills, lies in that a waterbender will attempt to mend physical, and mental wounds, whereas an energy reader will sense spiritual disturbances, and attempt to restore balance within the soul.
Just as the form of fire as generated by a heat bender is pure, as too is the technique involved in the skill. A firebender will inhale deeply, and exhale to channel focused heat in the form of hot steam. This principle of the art is most evident in heat bending than in any other technique, with the heat commonly projected from the nostrils. Even so, a dual-fingertip form, mostly evident in lightning bending, allows for bending the heat the last bit as much.
This heat bending technique evolved into a rare ability, which went down in history as combustion bending, entitled after the ominous, firebending assassin chasing down the Avatar during the final phase of the Hundred Year War. A combustion bender will motionlessly guide the chi inside their body by breathing, and project a beam of energy off their foreheads, superheating the air in its path, resulting to a powerful projectile, penetrating the surface of the target upon impact, subsequently generating a powerful explosion.
The most powerful form of firebending, however, is one a select few benders are gifted with the potential to master. Before the end of the Hundred Year War, only the classically trained members of the Royal Family had the ability to charge, generate, and control lightning. The technique requires the bender to separate the energy within themselves, the Yin and Yang, forcing them to seek balance. They guide it through the body's pathways from both sides, into a nexus point; the moment the positive and negative energies connect on that one point, like the Taijitu, the bender will release their energy in the form of lightning.
"Lightning is a pure expression of firebending, without aggression. It is not fueled by rage or emotion the way other firebending is. Some call lightning the cold-blooded fire. It is precise and deadly [...]. To perform the technique requires peace of mind."Master Iroh, (The Last Airbender: Book 2, "Bitter Work")
Lightning bending requires utmost precision. As such, the firebender will solely rely on their fingertips to guide the sheer power in, and out of themselves. The signature use of the fingertips in this technique, also observed in the Chaquan firebending style, and in heat bending, resembles the whiskers of the dragon as they fiercely move through the air, upon the predator creature attacking.
To master lightning might be dangerous for the firebender's target, but in the hands of a poorly trained firebender, the skill can be just as dangerous for themselves. Having separated the energy inside of them, they are left more vulnerable than ever to the very force they crave to control. The virtue of a true firebender, knowing restraint, is most called for in this technique.
The bending arts involve extremely complex mechanics, and to use those mechanics to invent unique bending styles is nothing short of remarkable. Multicolored firebending was thought impossible by the people, until a fine showcase of the masters, Ran and Shaw, the last of their kind, observed by Firelord Zuko, allowed him to master the technique, and bend an identical, flaming tornado himself.
Like firebending harmony, the beautiful flames of the dragons, red, orange, purple, green; they symbolise the true meaning of the art. Even the dragonfire, however, did not present flames burning blue, the highest possible temperature firebending. This technique signified Princess Azula's flames. Unlike the other firebenders', her fire would burn white at the base, a shade of purple, leading to a peak of bright blue. Having been compared to lightning bending itself, Azula's technique follows a similar pattern to the second form of Shaolin, entitled "the dragon shoots its whiskers", the central influence to the form of lightning generation, in which the practitioner's fingertips serve an important purpose, due to the extreme precision involved.
As Azula stopped controlling her flames, those would cool down and burn identical to those of every firebender. Even so, like all firebenders, when the Princess felt intense emotions, the temperature surrounding her would increase, and any flame burning nearby would turn blue. Upon succumbing to a complete, mental breakdown, her rage would fuel her fire to increasing extents, and the flames great distances around her would burn blight blue, without her directly manipulating them, this time to an abnormal, sustained effect.
- Nickelodeon.com: Avatar: The Last Airbender.
- The Last Airbender: Book 1: Water.
- The Boy In the Iceberg.
- The Southern Air Temple.
- Winter Slostice I: The Spirit World.
- Winter Slostice II: Avatar Roku.
- The Storm.
- The Deserter.
- The Northern Air Temple.
- The Siege of the North I.
- The Siege of the North II.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Creating the Legend III: Firebending.
- The Lost Scrolls: Fire.
- The Last Airbender: Book 2: Earth.
- The Avatar State.
- Zuko Alone.
- The Chase.
- Bitter Work.
- The Library.
- Journey to Ba Sing Se II: The Drill.
- The Crossroads of Destiny.
- The Last Airbender: Book 3: Fire.
- The Awakening.
- The Headband.
- The Beach.
- The Avatar and the Firelord.
- The Runaway.
- The Puppetmaster.
- The Day of Black Sun I: The Invasion.
- The Day of Black Sun II: The Eclipse.
- The Western Air Temple.
- The Firebending Masters.
- The Boiling Rock I.
- Sozin's Comet I: The Phoenix King.
- Sozin's Comet III: Into the Inferno.
- Sozin's Comet IV: Avatar Aang.
- Avatar Extras: Book 2: Earth.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Art of the Animated Series.
- The Legend of Korra: Book 1: Air.
- Welcome to Republic City.
- The Revelation.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search II.
- The Legend of Korra: Book 2: Spirits.
- Beginnings I.
- Beginnings II.
- Beginnings I (Premise).
- The Legend of Korra: Book 3: Change.
- In Harm's Way.
- The Ultimatum.
- Enter the Void.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Legacy.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Smoke and Shadow I.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South I.
- The Rise of Kyoshi.
- The Shadow of Kyoshi.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Legacy of the Fire Nation.
- Chung's Martial Arts Academy: History of Cha Quan.