|"Water is the element of change."|
|— Iroh to Zuko.|
Waterbending, one of the four elemental bending arts, is the hydrokinetic ability to control water in all of its various forms. This type of bending is used by the people of the Water Tribe, who are divided into the Southern, Northern, and lesser known Foggy Swamp tribes, as well as those of the United Republic, each with their own unique bending style.
Water is the element of change. The moon is the source of power in waterbending, and the original waterbenders learned to bend by observing how the moon pushed and pulled the tides. The Water Tribes are the only people who did not learn bending from an animal, though the Moon and Ocean Spirits took the form of koi fish in the mortal world near the beginning of the Avatar world.
The fighting style of waterbending is mostly fluid and graceful, acting in concert with the environment. Foggy Swamp style waterbending, however, is more rigid and straight. Waterbenders deal with the flow of energy; they let their defense become their offense, turning their opponents' own forces against them. Even when waterbenders do take an attack stance, their moves always appear to flow from one to the other.
During the era of Raava, the power of water was first granted by the water lion turtle, who would temporarily provide it as protection to those venturing into the Spirit Wilds. However, after the lion turtles renounced their roles as protectors of mankind during the era of the Avatar, the turtles refused to give people the power anymore. The descendants of the people living atop the water lion turtle eventually learned to waterbend by observing how the moon pushed and pulled the tides of the ocean; they learned how to simulate the effect themselves. As such, they have a strong spiritual connection to the Moon and its counterpart, the Ocean. In fact, waterbending is the only bending art to originate from spirits instead of animals, and additionally, any adverse effect on these spirits detrimentally affects waterbenders.
Waterbending's strength is its great versatility. Rather than supporting a separate set of offensive methods, waterbending employs defensive techniques that can be transformed into attacks and counters, defense into offense. Instead of simply deflecting an attack, waterbending's defensive maneuvers focus on control, achieved through turning an opponent's own strength against them, rather than directly harming the opponent.
Waterbending abilities and techniques
Breath of ice: A waterbender can use the water vapor in their breath to rapidly freeze objects or opponents. For a more advanced version of the technique, the user takes a deep breath and exhales the air as a cloud of freezing mist. Katara used this technique to freeze Jet to a tree, to save Sokka from Huu, and to stop a warship from sinking by temporarily freezing a hole in the ship's hull. Avatar Aang also used this ability to break the chain when Bumi was being lifted by a crane.
Ice blade: Waterbenders can create a swordlike blade of ice. Ming-Hua used this technique to threaten a delivery truck driver in order to smuggle her and her companions out of Republic City and again during her battle with Kya at the Northern Air Temple in an attempt to skewer the other woman.
Ice bullets: Waterbenders are able to rapidly shoot shards of ice at their opponents. Tarrlok used this technique in his fight with Avatar Korra, while Desna and Eska used this against Ming-Hua and Kya used it against Zaheer.
Ice claws: Shown by Hama, using ice claws involves the bender drawing water around their fingers and freezing it. They can also be sent forward, shooting them at an opponent. A waterbender can also use this as an advantage; being small and unnoticeable, they can hide them in their sleeves just like Mai's weapons. Additionally, this technique uses little water and thus can be performed quickly using the condensation technique.
Ice creeper: A waterbender can send a ray of ice on the ground, speeding at an opponent to freeze them. This technique freezes a trail of water beginning with the waterbender performing the move and ending with their targets freezing. This technique was first performed by Katara when she accidentally froze Sokka's feet to the ship, before she was able to freeze three Fire Nation soldiers. Kya also used this technique in her fight with Zaheer.
Ice disc: A waterbender can create a cylindrical column of ice and proceed to slice razor-sharp sections of it off and send them at an opponent. They are sharp around the edges but also thin, as Master Pakku was able to break them with his wrists.
Ice gauntlet: Similar in technique to the ice claws, a waterbender can freeze water around their hands and turn it into a sharp spike that can be used to scale mountains or impale their opponent. Tonraq made use of this in his battle with Zaheer on Laghima's Peak.
Ice hook: Waterbenders, if creative enough, may form a hook out of ice which they can use to climb vertical surfaces. Ming-Hua bent ice hooks to climb up the walls of P'Li's prison while carrying her. She also used an ice hook to take out a White Lotus sentry when breaking out of her prison.
Ice line: Waterbenders can create lines of twisting ice columns to knock out their opponents. Unalaq, while in the Dark Avatar State, used an enhanced version of this technique to knock out Mako and Bolin during Harmonic Convergence.
Ice shield: Waterbenders are able to freeze water in front of them, creating a shield of ice. Katara performed this technique on numerous occasions during the Hundred Year War and Korra later made use of it to protect herself from a metalbending police officer who chased after her during her first time in Republic City, as well as during her fight with the Dark Avatar. Kya also employed this move to defend herself and her brother, Bumi, from rocks launched by Ghazan during their battle at the Northern Air Temple.
Ice spear: The ice spear is a waterbending move that involves freezing a stream of water into a spike and firing it at the intended target. This move was used by Katara when she was about to strike down Yon Rha and Korra also used this technique when she faced Amon.
Iceberg spike: Waterbenders can shoot small shards of ice at their opponent, or cause a giant spike to protrude from a body of water. The Northern Water Tribe employs these as a primary defense of their homeland when enemy ships are sighted. Desna and Eska performed numerous iceberg spikes during their duel with Ming-Hua. Korra also employed this technique to slow down Kuvira's enormous mecha suit.
Phase change: Waterbenders also possess the ability to alter the physical state of the water they manipulate, between liquid, solid and gas, at will. Changing the phase of water allows for multiple techniques in the course of a battle, from encasing an opponent in ice to hiding behind a wall of mist. Ice and steam/fog can also be molded in a diverse range of shapes. Ice provides a degree of hard lethality since it can be molded into spikes or blades to pin down or impale opponents. Steam or mist can obscure a battlefield and mask movement. Katara made good use of this to enhance her performance as the Painted Lady. Waterbenders also possess the ability to breathe an icy mist that freezes water and other substances.
Streaming the water: Named by Katara, it is a move that draws water from a source that waterbenders move around their bodies. A more advanced version demonstrated by Aang apparently involves "sinking and floating". This move is thought to be used for basic training so that beginning waterbenders can get a "feel" for water, but it is in reality a useful move performed by waterbenders of every skill level.
Water bullet: The water bullet is a move where a waterbender bends a large amount of water and sends it in a forceful blow toward their target. It is similar to a water jet, but it is more for a quick use since the jet takes more concentration. It is basic yet useful because it takes little time to perform and has a significant effect on the target. Katara used this against Hama.
Water cloak: A waterbender can use their water as a form of armor with tentacle-like arms. The bender can use these arms to grab objects or enemies, whip enemies, blast enemies with water, and freeze them. If a waterbender has less water available, he or she can simply form the arms instead of the entire cloak. This technique was first shown by Katara while she dueled against Azula in the Crystal Catacombs and again when she was on board the Southern Raiders frigate. Korra used this against members of the Northern Water Tribe when breaking her father out of prison and it was later used by both Korra and Unalaq in their fight during Harmonic Convergence. Both Kya and Tonraq also used it during their duels with Zaheer at Air Temple Island and Laghima's peak, respectively. Ming-Hua mastered this technique to the point that she could mold the ends of the tentacles into any shape, such as a claw or a hook, as well as only locally freeze the ends while retaining the mobility of the tentacle as a whole.
Water filtering: When working in concert with an earthbender, a waterbender can purify polluted water. The waterbender suspends the polluted water in the air while the earthbender removes the pollutants.
Water jet: High pressure jets can be used to force opponents back or even blast clean through a target if focused enough. Water jets are primarily used if the user has the intent of severely hurting their opponents. It was seen being performed by Katara against a pirate.
Water knife: The ability to shape water into a super-sharp edge or point for a split-second, enabling a waterbender to cut through metal, wood and stone. Aang and Katara used this technique to sabotage the giant Fire Nation drill assaulting Ba Sing Se.
Water manipulation: Almost all forms of waterbending involve moving and shaping a body of water to the waterbender's desire. By simply levitating a large mass of water, waterbenders can move water anywhere they wish, even parting it under the surface of a lake or sea, allowing them to walk along the bottom of a basin without the need to swim. These large bodies of water can also be used as weapons, either by shaping them into gigantic whips, swung repeatedly at a target as a snake-like body, formed momentarily into a razor-sharp edge that can cut through even metal, or simply dropped onto an opponent to smother them or put out a fire. On the sea or ocean, waterbending can be used to create giant maelstroms. Aang and Katara used this to set off a giant sea serpent.
Water pressure manipulation: Waterbenders are also able to manipulate water pressure, allowing them to use water to grasp other objects or cut through without simply parting around them. Water can be used as a semi-solid while being able to move and flow like a liquid. Water can be pressurized to such a level where it can slice through metal. Waterbenders can also use this to avoid sinking in water, effectively allowing them to walk on water, as demonstrated by Katara multiple times.
Water wall/water shield: Water can be molded into a variety of shapes and can be used to deflect an attack, trap opponents in a viscous body, reshaped and propelled at attackers before they can recover, or solidified into a shield of ice. This diversity and ability to swiftly change to suit the situation is what makes the waterbender's defense so adaptable. Although usually protective, the shield needs some type of compression or else it will not be effective. This is demonstrated when Katara was fighting Zuko at the Spirit Oasis and her quickly-made shield could not block the fire blast.
Water whip: The water whip is a commonly used move that involves creating a lashing tendril of water to swipe at an opponent. The shape, size, and length are all determined by a waterbender's control, and more powerful benders can create larger whips, or ones of greater finesse. The whip can be sharpened into a blade that can slice through metal with relative ease, and Katara, Korra, Tonraq, Desna, and Eska have demonstrated the ability to create water whips with their feet.
Wave: By moving a large mass of water without separating it from its original source, waterbenders can create waves of nearly any size. They do this by using an upward movement that raises the source, which they subsequently send away in their desired direction. This can be used to sweep opponents away or even as a form of transport, with the bender surfing on the crest of the wave. This same process can be used to propel waterborne crafts.
Waterbending master level
The mark of a master waterbender is the ability to swiftly change from one state of water to another and rapidly switch techniques during combat, keeping the opponent off guard while constantly adapting to the enemy as demonstrated by Master Pakku. For example, he deflected a stream of water away from himself, froze it, and used it to slide behind Katara and counterattacked.
Bubble: Capable waterbenders are able to cross large bodies of water by creating a bubble around themselves and their fellow travelers, maintaining a supply of air for their journey. The technique was first used by Aang and Katara to cross the Serpent's Pass and later by Katara on two occasions so that she and Appa could submerge. It was also used by Korra several times to transport herself and others under the surface of Yue Bay while traveling to and from Air Temple Island.
Ice dagger: Much like ice claws, ice daggers form on a waterbender's fingers and shoot at high speeds away from him or her. Katara used these against Master Pakku.
Ice dome: A highly advanced technique, as demonstrated by Katara while fighting against Zuko in the Spirit Oasis, a waterbender may surround a foe in a sphere of water and freeze it, trapping their opponent inside.
Ice drill: By turning the tip into ice, waterbenders control massive amounts of water into a spiraled frozen drill. This technique was first demonstrated by Unalaq, while he tried to open the Northern spirit portal. Ming-Hua used this to break P'Li out of her cell.
Ice floor: With a sufficient amount of water available, a master can cover a large area of the ground with ice, trapping their enemies' feet in ice while allowing them to slide around. This technique was used by Pakku during the Order of the White Lotus' liberation of Ba Sing Se and by Ahnah during a fight against an Earth Empire mecha suit. Tahno used a variation of this technique to only momentarily freeze the floor locally in order to cause Bolin to slip during a pro-bending match.
Ice prison: This technique covers an opponent in a prison made of ice. By finely controlling the position of the person within, this technique can restrict the motions of an opponent's hands, thus rendering them powerless. Katara utilized this move to incapacitate Azula during Sozin's Comet. Tonraq used this technique to trap two Northern soldiers, before he was incapacitated himself in a similar manner by Unalaq. Ming-Hua also demonstrated mastery over this technique, as she used two ice pillars to imprison Desna and Eska.
Ice ramp: Waterbenders can manipulate ice as a means of short transportation for themselves or others. Katara used this when training with Aang and Toph, as well as during the Battle for Yu Dao. Korra used this technique to craft a pathway to topple a snowmobile in order to save Unalaq and later to transport herself during her fight with Hundun and his dark spirits. Tonraq also used this technique as a manner of quick transportation during his duel with Unalaq. Similarly, waterbenders can also shift snow and water to create stairs of ice in order to improve mobility in snow.
Ice sled: An advanced version of the ice ramp, master waterbenders can craft a sled out of ice and propel it forward with their bending at speeds that rival those achieved by motorized transportation, such as snowmobiles.
Ice tunneling: Waterbenders are able to swim through thick ice with the same ease as through water, allowing them to surprise their foes. The technique was only seen to have been performed twice, once by a waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe in a flashback of Hama's and again by Korra, who used it to escape from her compound.
Maelstrom: In a large body of water, a waterbender can create a gigantic whirlpool. This technique was executed by Aang and Katara while fighting the serpent.
Multiple water whips: An advanced waterbending move similar to the single water whip, except it deals with more than one whip, usually four or five. This technique seems to be able to inflict a large amount of damage. It was used by Katara against Azula.
Octopus form: A body of water formed around the user into multiple whip-like limbs which can be used to grasp or strike an opponent or to intercept incoming attacks. This technique was first demonstrated by Aang during his training with Katara, who later used the form herself while fighting the Dai Li. Ming-Hua used a variation of the form in her duel with Kya at the Northern Air Temple and against Mako prior to her death.
Partial ice whip: Waterbenders can take hold of the end of an opponent's water whip and locally freeze the opposite end in order to trap their opponent and pull them in closer. Korra demonstrated this technique in her fight against the Dark Avatar.
Razor rings: An experienced waterbender can create multiple simultaneous water rings capable of cutting. Katara used this against the swamp monster.
Water ball: Similar to the bubble technique and the ice prison technique, a waterbender can trap their opponent in a ball of water. Unalaq used this technique to trap Raava and Ming-Hua to imprison Bolin.
Water boxing: To perform the technique, a waterbender surrounds their fist with a small amount of water and punches their opponent. This move was used by Tahno in a match against the Fire Ferrets.
Water dome: A master waterbender can collect water from the rain, forming a dome which can be used for both offense and defense. Katara used this to frighten Yon Rha.
Water drill: A high-pressure, rotating column of water. Capable of exerting a significant amount of pressure upon a solid surface, that allows the action of a drill. The move takes mastery of waterbending since the motions to create a constantly twisting body of water requires bending skill. This technique was first demonstrated by Avatar Roku's waterbending master and later by Kya during her fight with Zaheer.
Water gimbal: Skilled waterbenders can create a gimbal, or two rotating rings of water, around their bodies. This has both defensive and offensive capabilities, such as being used as a cannon. Kya used this technique during her fight with Zaheer on Air Temple Island.
Water pinwheel: This move involves the user moving a large mass of water and spinning it vertically around him/her. This was demonstrated by Hama while blocking Katara's attacks.
Water ring: A skilled waterbender can create a ring of water around their body which can be used for both defense and offense, such as shooting ice shards or sending water whips at their opponent. Kya used this in her duel with Zaheer and twice against Ming-Hua.
Water spout or "water vortex": This high-level technique involves controlling a whirlpool-like pillar of water or snow, rotating it and directing its movements at the same time, making it easier for the user to dodge attacks. In accordance with the water spout's constantly shifting and coiling movements, it forms a giant snake of water around the lower body, elevating them from the surface of the water. First demonstrated by Aang, Pakku used a snow variant of this technique to ward off several firebenders during the Siege of the North, and Katara performed a minor version of this to bring Aang up and out of the Crystal Catacombs. Korra, Amon, and Unalaq also proved to be skilled practitioners of this technique. The waterspout has a limited height, however, depending on the amount of water fueling it.
Avatar level waterbending
Ice fissure: Avatars are able to use waterbending to split frozen ground by bending the water mixed with the earth. Unalaq used this technique after merging with Vaatu to form a deep chasm and trap Korra within, intending to crush her as he brought both sides of the fissure back together.
Remote waterbending: Avatars can use waterbending from distances which a waterbender would not normally be able to access. While in combat with Ozai, Aang went into the Avatar State and pulled water in from the sea toward himself to make part of his elemental sphere. After defeating Ozai, Aang raised the tides of the sea to put out the fire at Wulong Forest caused by Ozai and his airships.
Tsunami: Since they can control larger amounts of water, Avatars are capable of creating and controlling water bodies of far greater size and scale, including causing massive tsunamis, at will. The technique was first demonstrated by Avatar Kuruk as he created a large wave to ride on. Later, Aang and Princess Yue created a large tsunami that brought Aang to safety on Crescent Island. Korra used a variation of this technique to create a localized wave that spun the Northern battleships out of the way to allow Varrick's yacht to pass through their blockade.
Water compression: An Avatar in the Avatar State has enough power over water to compress its volume, compacting several thousands of gallons into a small volume. Aang did so when he created his elemental sphere while preparing to pursue Ozai.
Many of the following techniques are guided by the principle that waterbenders may manipulate any solution, organism or object where water is present.
Armless waterbending: Proficient waterbenders can control water without the use of limbs, relying only on the torso to generate enough movement to manipulate a medium. With this technique, waterbenders such as Ming-Hua can create water-like appendages as makeshift arms and even turn the entire body into an ice drill by generating enough momentum.
Bloodbending: Bloodbending is a rather sinister application of the principle that water is present in every living organism, thus making them bendable objects themselves. By definition, bloodbending is a technique that allows a bender to enforce his or her will to an organism. Initially, it was thought that bloodbending could only be done during the full moon, where waterbenders are at their most powerful. However, it was proven that complete mastery of bloodbending would not require a full moon to practice the ability, when Yakone, and later his sons, Noatak and Tarrlok, had employed the technique without the aid of the full moon.
The technique was invented by Hama during her time as a Fire Nation prisoner following the Southern Water Tribe raids. She came to a realization that living things, animals and humans included, contain large volumes of water, and thus can be bent. Later, the technique was outlawed following the Hundred Year War, with Katara leading the motion for it to be declared illegal.
Cloud manipulation: By working together, a waterbender and airbender can easily manipulate clouds, which are made of air and water, to create various shapes. In one particular instance, cloudshaping was used to provide a message to nearby villagers of an erupting volcano. It was later used by Aang and his friends to disguise their flights on Appa while moving about the Fire Nation.
Condensation: Not only can skilled waterbenders condense clouds into a usable source of water when they are within close range of one, but they also can condense invisible water vapor right out of the air. Although, due to the limited quantities of water present in the air, as a mere 1% at most of the earth's atmosphere is water vapor, the amount of water extracted from the air is quite minimal. Favorable environment and climatic conditions increase the amount of water one can remove from the air.
Healing: Waterbenders can sometimes use a unique sub-skill: the ability to heal injuries by redirecting energy paths, or chi, throughout the body, using water as a catalyst. Waterbenders can use their abilities to heal by surrounding a sick or injured person with water, which glows during the process. When infused with spiritual knowledge, a variation of this technique can be used to calm angry spirits, as demonstrated by Unalaq and Korra. The use of healing was generally taught to female waterbenders of the Northern Water Tribe, who were not allowed to study combative forms of waterbending prior to the end of the Hundred Year War. Katara is known to be the best healer in the world. With the help of Spirit Oasis water, she was able to heal Aang and resurrect him.
Plantbending: A member of the Foggy Swamp Tribe, Huu, illustrated that talented waterbenders can manipulate plant life. Plantbending has enabled members of the swamp to control and manipulate every form of plant life from the highly water-saturated vines and roots found within the swamplands to seaweed from the ocean floor—they can even rapidly compress and replace the plant mass of the plants they bend, since the cell tissues of a plant are more versatile than the cell tissues of an animal, also explaining why bloodbending can only be achieved on the nights of the full moon; see below—all by bending the ample amount of water within them just as they can with watery mud.
Going further, a skilled waterbender is able to separate and completely extract the water from plants for more effective utilization just as they are able to separate the water from mud, sand, and even polluted river systems, etc. In the case of plant life, this process will leave behind the withered remains of all the affected plant life or even making them collapse in the case of large trees. The degree of skill in manipulating plant life depends on the experience of the bender and whether or not a full moon is present. Katara and Hama extracted the water from large trees with relatively no difficulty during their battle under the full moon. Simpler and smaller forms of plant life, such as grass, flowers and seaweed, can be bent with relative ease, with or without a full moon.
Solutions: It has been shown that waterbenders can manipulate any mass of liquid consisting of some water. For example, Katara bent the contents of the abbey's perfume vats. She used waterbending to stir and ladle stew into bowls, to spill ink out of a bowl, and to bend the water inside mud as well. Katara halted the flow of the slurry on the back of the drill to prevent Ty Lee from following her, and, with Toph's aid, they were able to push the slurry back into the drill. Katara was seen bending mud when she and Toph ended up fighting when they were supposed to be training Aang, and she bent soup right into Appa's mouth from a pot. Katara bent ink to make a Fire Nation official leave the room so she and Zuko could search through the files about the current location of the Southern Raiders. Aang thought of using "gluebending" to defeat Ozai, suggesting that a waterbender can bend glue.
Spiritbending: A variation of the healing technique with the addition of spiritual knowledge. By encircling spirits or even projected human souls in the Spirit World with water, one is able to induce a change between the positive and negative energies, creating balance or imbalance within the target.
Steam manipulation: A technique that allows waterbenders to manipulate steam, and can also be used to manipulate fog. It can be used to freeze people or objects or to create cover. Katara made good use of the technique when she created a thick cloud of steam to conceal a ship from the enemy and when she surrounded herself in fog to create an eerie atmosphere while pretending to be a river spirit. Korra also made use of this technique while infiltrating Amon's rally, using steam from nearby pipes to provide cover for Mako.
Water run: This is a technique in which waterbenders run on water at high speeds, in addition to riding on foreign objects with the same purpose. This technique was first used during Team Avatar's crossing of the Serpent's Pass, when Katara formed an ice surfboard and increased her speed in order to effectively freeze the serpent's midsection without being hit. She used it a second time to cross the lake to Jang Hui. Aang used this in his fight against Ozai to flee from Ozai's attacks after being knocked off a cliff. During their fight with Korra, Desna and Eska encased their feet with ice to allow them to slide across the water. Korra also used this technique to ride a wave and cross the water when she was trying to stop two thieves at a small fishing town.
Waterbending is greatly strengthened and enhanced during the night, due to its lunar affinity. During a full moon in particular, waterbending is greatly enhanced, to the point where a single waterbender can overpower multiple opponents with relative ease. Bloodbending was largely thought to be possible only under a full moon. As an additional note, waterbending abilities are not enhanced during a solar eclipse. During a solar eclipse, the moon is directly in front of the sun. While the moon blocks the sunlight, all of the light from the sun shines on the far side of the moon. The side of the moon is completely dark, meaning that the moon's phase is in the new moon phase. During a solar eclipse, the moon is always in the new moon stage. Since a full moon strengthens and amplifies a waterbender's waterbending abilities to numerous levels, a solar eclipse does not enhance a waterbender's abilities. Finally, waterbenders will become stronger when they are near their homelands.
Opposing bending art
Waterbending is the antithetical bending art to firebending, though it is similar in its need for inner discipline, breath control, and strong connection to external forces. Firebenders use quick strong punches and kicks to shoot fire, while waterbenders use slow movements and elegant turns and spins to return the momentum of the opponents' attacks with blasts of water. Firebenders attack first, while waterbenders wait and turn their target's attacks against them.
Like all the bending arts, waterbending is balanced out as to not be more or less powerful than the other arts. It is the skill and prowess of the user that determines victory. In the case of waterbending however, a waterbender's ability to perform all of the waterbending they are capable of is significantly dependent on the amount of water available.
Avatar Roku, born a firebender, considered learning waterbending as "especially challenging" and called mastering the four elements "bitter work". Even when in combat situations, Roku favored firebending, earthbending and airbending above waterbending, to the point where he did not use waterbending to fight a volcano, despite being surrounded by water.
Iroh used waterbending philosophy when developing lightning redirection, a technique used to prevent harm from lightning. Zuko was taught the technique and both of them have been shown using it effectively against powerful opponents. Zuko later taught it to Aang, who was also able to use the technique.
Although they are opposing bending arts, both waterbending and firebending can manipulate external thermal energy.
Additionally, both waterbending and firebending can affect the environment if the bender loses their temper, as seen when Katara cracked ice while screaming at Sokka, and when Zuko was having a tense discussion with Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee.
The only known times a weapon has been used with waterbending was when Avatar Kyoshi used her fans to create a wave and when Aang used his staff to freeze water. However, many waterbenders carry water skins of various sizes to provide them with a source of water in places where it is scarce, such as deserts and urban locations.
There are four waterbending styles known to exist in the Avatar universe, namely the Northern style, Southern style, Foggy Swamp style, and pro-bending style. Due to the circumstances of the Hundred Year War, the Southern style was nearly extinct, with only Hama left as the only Southern Water Tribe waterbending master during Avatar Aang's time to be fully trained in waterbending. However, Hama passed on all her knowledge to Katara before they became enemies.
As the Foggy Swamp Tribe is an offshoot of the Southern Water Tribe, Foggy Swamp style may have first developed from the Southern style, but throughout the intervening generations it has evolved into its own distinct style.
Northern and Southern style
The Northern Water Tribe developed the first style of waterbending for use in their home at the North Pole. When the Southern Water Tribe formed in the South Pole, they developed a slightly different style that nonetheless is similar to the Northern style.
The traditional waterbending styles of the Northern and Southern Water Tribes focus on graceful, fluid movements for their attacks. These styles frequently make use of switching the state of water from liquid to ice and snow. It is with this technique that the waterbenders built their large polar cities. The Northern waterbending style seems to traditionally perform more defensive, strategic, and architectural techniques in waterbending, while the Southern waterbending style seems to be more aggressive and offensive than the Northern style.
Foggy Swamp style
Foggy Swamp style is the waterbending style used by the Foggy Swamp Tribe of the Earth Kingdom.
Instead of the fluid, graceful movements of the other two waterbending styles, they keep a rigid and straight stance, possibly reflecting the usually stagnant nature of water in their swamp homelands, and use stiff and circular arm movements to move water like a propeller. This style seems to be effective in moving the tribe's boats.
They do not appear to use ice or snow attacks as often as their polar cousins, possibly due to the lack of ice in their environment. However, an exception was seen during the Day of Black Sun, when one member used ice to patch a hole in one of the submarines. One of the swamp's tribesmen, Huu, was able to develop plantbending. It is unlikely that other polar waterbenders were aware of this technique, though Hama did not express surprise when learning of it, preferring to remove the water from plants rather than manipulating the plant.
The battle capabilities of this style seem to be accurate, since Tho, Due, and the other Swamp waterbenders used this unique style in battle, making noticeable foot movements in addition to moving their arms in the desired direction to shield themselves from harm before stepping and performing an elegant punching motion to attack.
After seventy years, the art of waterbending changed greatly. The benders began to adapt and develop new techniques. One particular change was the development of pro-bending. Because of the hindering rules of this game, waterbenders' styles adapted to match. For instance, waterbenders are restricted from using continuous streams of water. To compensate, they have modernized waterbending to mainly include short blasts and blocks.
One noticeable change in the art is a more frequent use of the lower body in bending. Originally, the lower body was not significantly used in waterbending. However, pro-bending has enabled some waterbenders, such as Avatar Korra, to use high arching kicks to direct streams of water.
Another new technique of waterbending is that it has also somewhat moved away from traditional grace and more into the quickness of the attack. Reminiscent of firebending, the waterbenders often use sharp, quick, boxer-like punches when bending, allowing the players to stay light on their feet and able to dodge incoming attacks on the field.
The battle capabilities of this technique are far more diverse than that of the other techniques. This is mainly due to fighting being the main purpose of pro-bending. Korra has been seen fighting outside the ring effectively, implementing her pro-bending style waterbending against a variety of opponents.
External water source: A waterbender gains a significant advantage or disadvantage over other benders depending on the amount of water in the vicinity. Enemies are able to take advantage of this by driving them away from water sources. As a result, traveling waterbenders often carry a water skin with them at all times. Master waterbenders are able to extract water from plants, ultimately killing the plants, and even condense water vapor out of thin air.
Binding: Waterbending is almost entirely dependent on the movement of the bender's arms, quite the opposite of earthbending which mostly uses the lower body. This leaves the waterbender vulnerable when he or she is bound at the hands or has had the flow of chi blocked in the arms. Waterbending can be performed with the lower body, such as when Katara anchored her feet in ice during her fight against Master Pakku, or when she created a piece of ice to use as a surfboard when fighting a giant sea serpent. Another lower body technique is outlined on the waterbending scroll stolen by Katara, from which both she and Aang learned a technique named the water whip. However, Katara used her feet when she fought the guard earthbenders, in the Royal Palace, performing a larger than normal water whip. Hama also briefly tells Katara how the Fire Nation prison guards bound the waterbenders' arms each time they were given water to drink, emphasizing their helplessness.
Lunar eclipse: Another waterbending weakness is its dependence on the moon. Although waterbenders gain power from the moon, with waterbending at its zenith during full moons, the moon's absence during a lunar eclipse results in a complete loss of waterbending ability.
Emotional state: A waterbender's power comes from the internal life energy, chi. Due to this, a waterbender's power is connected to his or her present emotional state. If an inexperienced waterbender were to lose his or her temper, their waterbending force is intensified, but in turn, control is lost; this was demonstrated by Katara when she lost her temper against Sokka and inadvertently cracked an iceberg. Although this has the potential to be quite dangerous in a waterbender with little to no training, it also serves as a boon to a bender with proper training and experience, as well as balance over his or her emotions.
Lightning: Impure water is a natural conductor of electricity. Considering how many waterbending techniques involve a physical connection to the water itself, the bender is left vulnerable to a lightning strike. Mako was able to exploit this weakness and defeat Ming-Hua.
Some of the standard waterbending weaknesses can be overcome by skilled waterbending masters. In environments without water a master can pull water particles out of clouds, air, and even out of living organisms such as plants and trees. The drawback is that if water is removed from a living organism, it will wither and die. Water can also be obtained from a master's own bodies if need be, from sweat or saliva. The amount of water able to be removed from the air will vary depending on weather conditions. As only a small proportion of the planet's atmosphere contains gaseous water, these amounts would be limited even at the best of times. However, the amount of water can be sufficient to form a usable weapon, such as ice claws, which do not need a lot of water to form. Furthermore, binding does not work on waterbenders who mastered the ability to waterbend using the lower body and/or without any arms, such as Ming-Hua.
The symbol for water and waterbending is a circle comprising a stylized rightward-facing ocean wave with three spiral crests breaking over three wavy diagonal lines representing water. It also shows how the Moon and Ocean Spirits work together, with the moon symbolized by the circular border and the Ocean Spirit symbolized by the picture of an ocean. The symbol is featured in connection with Northern Water Tribe spirituality and on the pendant worn by Katara, originally carved by Master Pakku for her grandmother as an engagement present.
Spirituality and waterbending
Like the moon controlling the tides, waterbenders move water using their chi to mimic gravitational pull by choosing how to direct their energy utilizing two jings, which in turn work to push and pull the water being controlled. Because of this lunar sympathy, a waterbender's power is stronger at night, at its absolute zenith during a full moon, and lost during a lunar eclipse. A waterbender's power is also enhanced during the rain, for obvious reasons. Furthermore, a waterbender's power is strongest when he or she is situated in colder climates, during the winter, or near their native polar homelands.
Legend further elaborates that Tui, meaning "push", the Moon Spirit, and its symbiotic partner La, meaning "pull", the Ocean Spirit, gave up their immortality to be a part of the mortal world. In fact, these spirits exist in the physical forms of two koi fish eternally circling one another in a pond, in the highly spiritual oasis, in the capital city of the Northern Water Tribe.
The "push and pull" relationship between the moon's gravity and the water's inertia is represented by Yin and Yang. The Moon Spirit koi is white, with a black forehead marking, and the Ocean Spirit koi is black, with a white forehead marking, mimicking the two primal forces.
Without the equilibrium of these two spiritual aspects, waterbenders lose their powers. This was illustrated when Tui's mortal form was killed by Admiral Zhao during the Fire Nation's siege of the Northern Water Tribe. The moon disappeared from the sky, the balance of the world was upset, and the waterbenders defending the North Pole were rendered powerless.
The Fire Nation's invading fleet was subsequently defeated when the Avatar, Aang, acted as a literal avatar of La and combined to form a gigantic water creature that swept the Fire Nation forces out to sea. Balance was restored when Princess Yue, who had received a part of Tui's life force at birth to prevent her immediate death, returned that force and sacrificed herself so that Tui might live.
Waterbending emphasizes symbiosis: acting in concert with one's environment and guiding it, rather than avoiding, controlling, or working against it. In the Foggy Swamp Tribe, waterbenders were shown to be especially attuned to the environment, as one of its members, Huu, was able to achieve enlightenment by meditating under a tree in the heart of the swamp and connecting with it the same way it is connected with the rest of the swamp, as it is a superior organism.
Waterbending is based on a style of T'ai chi ch'uan, specifically the Yang style. It is a Chinese martial art that features slow movements and elegant forms that evoke the feel of flowing water.
Like tai chi, a waterbender's main advantage is the ease with which he or she can control his or her opponent, not simply harming them. Both arts were influenced by ancient healing practices; people would channel their "energy paths" within themselves to areas of the body where healing was necessary. They also share a specific focus: body alignment, breath, and visualization. Finally, a waterbender can typically find that softness and breathing are more effective for his or her ability than hard aggression, just as a practitioner of tai chi does.
The pro-bending style is more reminiscent of mixed martial arts fighting, as seen with the wide variety of techniques used in the sport to waterbend.
- † indicates deceased during the series or graphic novels.
- H indicates known ability to use healing.
- B indicates known ability to use bloodbending.
- P indicates known ability to use plantbending
The Legend of Korra
- More waterbenders are born during the winter season than in any other season.
- All three known sub-styles of waterbending were developed by a different tribe: Healing by the Northern Tribe, plantbending by the Swamp Tribe, and bloodbending by a Southern waterbender.
- Waterbending is the first bending art shown in the franchise; it was first showcased in the opening sequence and subsequently used by Katara while fishing with Sokka in the South Pole.
- Katara is the only known person to have learned all three sub-styles of waterbending, though she has not been taught spiritbending.
- Waterbending is the only bending art not to originate from animals, as waterbenders learned from observing the push and pull of the Moon and Ocean. However, the Moon and Ocean Spirits took the form of koi fish, thus making waterbending's original source somewhat similar to those of the other bending arts.
- According to "Avatar Extras", during the production of the "The Puppetmaster", the technique Hama used to temporarily hold Katara was jokingly referred to as the "Stop Hitting Yourself" technique.
- The single water whip technique involves identical movements to a form in Tai Chi known as the single whip form.
- In the Greek translation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, waterbending was usually translated as Νεροδάμασμα (Nerodamasma). However, in the last episodes of the first book, the translation was changed to Υδατοδάμασμα (Idatodamasma). Both words mean "subdue water", though the difference lies in that νερό (nero) means water in modern Greek and ύδωρ (ydor) in Ancient Greek, making Υδατοδάμασμα (Idatodamasma) a more formal translation. In The Legend of Korra, it is instead translated as κάμψη νερού (kampsi Nerou), meaning "bending of water".
- To coincide with the airing of Book Two: Spirits, Microsoft released waterbending as one of three bending forms available for a player's custom Avatar on Xbox Live.
- On the waterbending scroll, the word waterbending is written in Chinese as  , which can be translated as "The Divine Ability to Halt Water".