- This article is about the form of lightningbending in which the bender produces lightning. For the form in which the bender redirects lightning, see Lightning redirection.
|"There is energy all around us. The energy is both yin and yang; positive energy and negative energy. Only a select few firebenders can separate these energies. This creates an imbalance. The energy wants to restore balance and in a moment the positive and negative energy come crashing back together. You provide release and guidance, creating lightning."|
|— Iroh to Zuko.|
Lightning generation is an advanced sub-skill within firebending that allows the user to produce lightning by separating the positive and negative energies internally, before directing it up through the arm and out the fingertips. The technique is extremely precise and deadly and is referred to by some as the "cold blooded fire".
For centuries, the skill of lightning generation was so rare that few even knew that it was possible at all. By the 4th century BG, most people believed lightning generation to be mere folklore or something lost to history, though Avatar Kyoshi's firebending teacher Rangi stated in 296 BG that there were a few elderly people living in the Fire Nation who had witnessed it. At that time, the last known practitioner of the art was Xu Ping An, the outlaw and insurgent leader of the Yellow Neck uprising, who had used his rare abilities to gather a large army and devastate the Earth Kingdom. Upon being defeated by Jianzhu, he was imprisoned to be studied by Jianzhu's allies in the Fire Nation so they may learn how he was able to bend lightning.
In 296 BG, Xu's surviving followers freed him, but he was challenged to a duel by Avatar Kyoshi. Xu surprised her by attacking her with lightning, which she was only able to survive due to the chainmail in her dress grounding the lightning. However, despite his unique ability, Xu was defeated and killed by Kyoshi when she entered the Avatar State.
In the course of the next centuries, the Fire Nation rediscovered the method of lightning generation. It remained an incredibly rare skill, usually reserved for the inner circles of Fire Nation royalty and high-ranking military officers. By the end of the Hundred Year War, the only firebenders who had demonstrated the ability to generate lightning were Princess Azula, Iroh, and Fire Lord Ozai.
Azula demonstrated the technique while training under the watchful eye of Lo and Li and later when she was fighting her brother, Prince Zuko. Some time later, Zuko expressed a desire to learn this ability as well, though his emotional turmoil prevented him from properly creating lightning.
Ozai was also able to generate a powerful lightning strike with great speed, a skill he used to his advantage against his son during the invasion of the Fire Nation on the Day of Black Sun. He later used it again against Avatar Aang during the passing of Sozin's Comet, though both times, his target redirected the lightning.
While being questioned by Zuko over her conversation with Ozai, a restrained Azula attacked him with lightning, managing to generate the electricity with minimal movement. Later, she also displayed the ability to regulate the voltage of her charge, as she harmlessly zapped Sokka with a lightning bolt as opposed to inflicting lethal damage. As she tried to escape Team Avatar while on their way to Hira'a, Azula used lightning to distract Aang and attack a hallucination of Ursa in a river. When the group was later attacked by spirit moth wasps, Azula was able to charge a large ball of lightning, leading the insects away to follow the light. Impatient with Rafa and Misu's interference of her search for Ursa, she attacked them though found her lightning intercepted and redirected at the sky by Zuko. After learning her mother's location and new identity, Azula broke into Ursa's home by damaging the roof with her lightning. Her subsequent attack was once more thwarted by her brother, however, who sent her lightning back at her albeit without seriously harming her.
While leading the Kemurikage kidnappings, a cornered Azula used lightning to attack the Kyoshi Warriors, though Zuko redirected the blast.
By 170 AG, the ability to generate lightning had become more widespread, though it was still a rare skill. With an increased generation speed, the technique became a coveted skill to be used in Republic City's power plants, where lines of firebenders generated lightning to create electric currents for the city's industrial district.
Lightning Bolt Zolt used this technique in his duel against Amon, generating a continuous stream of lightning. Despite the destructive capabilities of the attack, the Equalist leader emerged victorious and took away Zolt's bending, reducing the stream of electricity to fire and eventually nothing. Mako too used lightning during Team Avatar's conflicts with the Equalists, also displaying the ability to regulate the voltage of his lightning strike, managing to stun the driver of an Equalist truck as opposed to killing him. Despite being held down by Amon's bloodbending, Mako managed to generate a bolt with minimum movement that was powerful enough to fling Amon across the room.
Lightning remained a favored technique of Mako's, as a year later, when a group of dark spirits attempted to reach Korra's body within the Tree of Time, he struck them down with it. Later that year, he used it as a last resort when fighting Ming-Hua in an underground lake, using the water as a conductor and electrocuting her in the process.
In 174 AG, during the invasion of the United Republic of Nations, Mako used his ability to generate lightning to shut down the spirit vine-charged power core of the enormous mecha suit with which Kuvira carried around her spirit energy cannon. By taking the time to truly charge the lightning, he was able to keep up his attack for a prolonged time, though the extended use caused severe burns on his left forearm. Eventually, he managed to overload the energy levels of the power core, causing it to explode.
Generating lightning usually involves a circular motion with the arms. Mentally, it involves a complete absence of emotion and peace of mind, and physically, it requires separating the energies of yin and yang, also interpreted as positive and negative electric potential respectively. When the yin and yang collide together to become whole again, lightning is created, with the bender only guiding, rather than controlling, the lightning's direction. If one attempts to conjure lightning without the required emotional discipline, it can instead result in a huge explosion of fire.
Because of this complexity, a lightning attack usually takes much longer to initiate than standard fire attacks, though skilled benders, like Ozai, have generated lightning much faster than others. However, it is possible to also generate lighting with minimal motion, as demonstrated by Mako, who, even while under Amon's bloodbending grip, managed to shoot the Equalist leader, and by Xu Ping An, whose mastery of the technique was such that he was able to shoot lightning after just inhaling deeply. He was also capable of generating multiple lightning bolts in rapid succession. The technique is extremely taxing on a firebender's chi reserves, which is why typically young men are sought out to work at power plants.
While lightning is generally fired as a single strike, it can also be sustained or shot in a continuous bolt and held until the user stops producing it. During this time, the lightning can be swept about to produce widespread damage.
When not blocked or redirected in some way, a lightning blast will be fatal to any human being. However, the charge of a lightning bolt can vary, and some levels of electricity can be survived, such as when Amon was shot with lightning and survived it. The generation technique cannot be used to defend against lightning; knowledge of a separate technique, lightning redirection, is required.
Zuko and Aang both survived Azula's lightning strikes due to Katara's healing abilities. Aang was resurrected by the spirit water after being fatally wounded, while Zuko had to be healed after hurriedly redirecting a lightning bolt Azula fired at Katara. While he was successful in redirecting much of the lightning, his improper stance and hurried execution of the technique resulted in some of the energy remaining in his body, which left him incapacitated and badly injured.
Even if the strike itself was not lethal, the victim still sustains critical wounds: the entry wound where Azula had struck Aang in the back was still raw, to the point where it still bled, and debilitating over a month after he sustained it, and it still had not completely healed by the end of the War. Zuko's wounds were still raw and painful by the time of his coronation, even though Katara had healed him shortly after he sustained them. Mako's arm took months to heal and remained seriously scarred.
The charge, and thus the damage, of a lightning strike can be regulated. During his fight with Amon, Mako was able to control the charge of his lightning, firing a bolt strong enough to incapacitate, but otherwise not harm, his opponent, as Amon quickly recovered from the blast.
While the generation of lightning can be maintained for extended periods, continued and excessive use can lead to burns.
- The movements involving lightning generation are drawn from a form of Shaolin martial arts known as "Dragon Shoots Its Whiskers".
- Lightning generation was referred to as "lightning bending" by Avatar Extras, as well as by Mai in Smoke and Shadow Part Three.
- Mako has used lightning generation in the finale of each book of The Legend of Korra.
- Bryan Konietzko likened the prevalence of lightning generation in the era after the Hundred Year War to the evolution and inclusivity of athletic sports in the modern era.