Martial Arts Elementals
Avatar draws on the four classical elements common to most ancient philosophies (rather than the five classical Chinese elements) for its bending arts: Water, Earth, Fire and Air. Although each has its own variation, most ancient philosophies incorporate these four elements in some way: examples include the classical Hindu, Buddhist, and Greek elemental traditions.
In the show’s opening, each element is accompanied by two Chinese characters: an ancient Chinese seal script character on the left, and a modern Chinese character on the right:
• Water (Chinese: ?; pinyin: shui) is associated with benevolence and adaptivity (Chinese: ?; pinyin: shan).
• Earth (Chinese: ?; pinyin: tu) is associated with strength and stability (Chinese: ?; pinyin: qiang).
• Fire (Chinese: ?; pinyin: huo) is associated with intensity and passion (Chinese: ?; pinyin: lie)
• Air (Chinese: ?; pinyin: qi) is associated with peace and harmony (Chinese: ?; pinyin: he).
The fighting choreography of the show draws from martial arts; the fighting styles and weaponry are based on Chinese martial arts, with each bending art corresponding to a certain real-world style. The creators referred to Ba Gua for Airbending, Hung Gar for Earthbending, Northern Shaolin for Firebending, and Tai Chi for Waterbending. The only exception to this is Toph, who employs a Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis style. The series employed Sifu Kisu of the Harmonious Fist Chinese Athletic Association as a martial arts consultant.
Each fighting style was chosen to represent the element it projected:
• Tai Chi focuses on alignment, body structure, breath, and visualization. This technique is the foundation of "Waterbending" in the series.
• Hung Gar was chosen for its firmly rooted stances and powerful strikes to present the solid nature of earth. This martial art is the basis of "Earthbending" in the series.
• Chu Gar Southern Praying Mantis has distinguishing movements and unique footwork that are employed by Toph Bei Fong to complement her blindness, giving her a unique style of Earthbending.
• Northern Shaolin Kung Fu uses strong arm and leg movements. This technique is the foundation of "Firebending" in the series.
• Ba Gua uses dynamic circular movements and quick directional changes. This technique uses centripetal force to generate power, and uses nearly constant circular movement to create angles between the combatants. This martial art is the basis of "Airbending" in the series.