Waterbending is one of the four elemental Bending Arts, the hydrokinetic ability to control water, as well as its many forms. The people of the Water Tribe utilize this type of bending. In turn, the Water Tribes are divided up in to the Southern Water Tribe, the Northern Water Tribe, and the lesser known Foggy Swamp Tribe.
Water is the element of change. The moon is the source of power in Waterbending, and the original Waterbenders learned from the moon by observing how the moon pushed and pulled the tides. The Water Tribes are the only people to not learn Bending from an animal. The fighting style of Waterbending is mostly flowing and graceful; acting in concert with their environment. However, Foggy Swamp Style Waterbending is more rigid and straight - probably in concert with the often stagnant nature of the water in their swamp. Waterbenders deal with the flow of energy, they let their defense become their offense, turning their opponents own forces against them.
The people of the Water Tribe first learned Waterbending by observing how the moon pushed and pulled the tides of the ocean. They then learned how to simulate the effect themselves. As such, they have a strong spiritual connection to the Moon (and its counterpart the Ocean), and any adverse effects on these mediums can affect them too. This makes Waterbenders the only type of benders who did not learn bending from an animal, although since the Moon and Ocean spirits take the form of animals, they could possibly classify as the animal Waterbending originated from.
According to the episode "The Waterbending Scroll", the word 'waterbending' is written in Chinese as 神聖的能力，制止水, which can be translated as "The Divine Ability to Halt Water".
Waterbending is based on a style of Tai Chi Chuan (specifically the Yang style), which is a Chinese martial art that features slow movements and elegant forms that evoke the feel of flowing water. Waterbending provides a versatility of experience. Waterbending's strength is its defensive capabilities which, rather than supporting a separate set of offensive methods, are transformed into attacks and counters - defense into offense. Rather than simply stopping to deflect an attack, Waterbending's defensive maneuvers focus on control, achieved through turning an opponent's own strength against him, instead of directly harming the opponent. According to Iroh, water is the element of change.
Waterbending Abilities and Techniques
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 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 see off a giant sea serpent in the episode "The Serpent's Pass".
Snow Manipulation: A move that pushes and levitates snow for attack, shielding and defense. Living on the poles of the Earth, Waterbenders are accustomed to living in the snow. The snow is used as the first source when Waterbending. They are able to compress the snow together in order to slice through objects, even metal. Masters like Pakku can bend the snow to make a snow spout, that can carry the bender around and they can still attack and dodge at the same time. This has been seen being done by many Waterbenders but mostly in "The Siege of the North, Part 1" and "The Siege of the North, Part 2".
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 all actuality a very useful move performed by Waterbenders of every skill level.
Water Whips: The most frequently seen move 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. More powerful benders can create larger whips or ones of greater finesse. Due to water being incompressible, a whip can be sharpened into a blade that can even slice through metal with relative ease. Katara has shown the ability to create water whips with her feet with great finesse as shown in The Earth King within Book 2.
Water Jets: 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 intent of severely hurting their opponents. Seen being performed by Katara in "The Waterbending Scroll".
Waves: By moving a large mass of water without separating it from its original source, water benders can create waves of nearly any size. They do this by using an upward movement and after raising the source, they 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.
Water Temperature Manipulation: 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. A Waterbender can easily superheat and boil water and other liquids to scalding temperatures. Katara made good use of this to enhance her performance as the Painted Lady.
Water Pressure Manipulation: Waterbenders are also able to manipulate water pressure, allowing their techniques to grasp other objects or cutting through without simply parting around them. Since water is incompressible, it 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 being able to walk on water, as demonstrated by Katara multiple times.
Ice Claws: Shown by Hama, Ice Claws is a move where the bender draws water around their fingers and freeze 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 very little water and thus can be performed quickly using the Condensation technique (see below). It can also be assumed that Waterbenders can also create ice gloves and be used just like the Rock Gloves used by the Dai Li.
Ice Spear: The Ice Spear is a Waterbending move shown to have been used by Southern Waterbenders. It involves freezing a stream of water and then sending the frozen result flying at the target. This move was used by Katara in The Southern Raiders when she is about to strike down Yon Rha, it has also been seen in Avatar games as well as the Avatar TCG.
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 in "The Avatar Returns" when she accidentally froze Sokka's feet to the ship.
Ice Shield: A Waterbender can freeze an amount of water in front of them, creating a shield of ice. This technique has been seen many times in the series being performed by Aang and Katara.
Ice Discs: 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 all very thin, since Master Pakku was able to break them with his wrists.
Ice Line: As an offensive attack, a waterbender can create a line of twisted columns and propel it forward. This technique was first seen demonstrated by a waterbender in "The Southern Raiders".
Breath of Ice: A Waterbender can use their breath to rapidly freeze objects, such as metallic chains, or an opponent. 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 in "Jet" to freeze Jet to a tree, in "The Swamp" to save Sokka from Huu, and in "The Awakening" where she stopped the warship from sinking by temporarily freezing a hole in the ships hull. Aang and Roku have used this technique before (possibly combined with Airbending) to freeze lava. Also Aang used this to break the chain from where Bumi was being lifted by a crane.
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, 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 in the episode "The Crossroads of Destiny".
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: When in need to cross large bodies of water, capable Waterbenders are able to create a bubble around themselves, keeping an air supply for them and for others. It was used by Aang and Katara in "The Serpent's Pass" and by Katara twice so that she and Appa could submerge, during "The Day of Black Sun, Part 1: The Invasion" and "The Southern Raiders".
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 takes bending skill. This technique was first seen being performed by Avatar Roku's Waterbending teacher in "The Avatar and the Fire Lord".
Ice Dome: A highly advanced technique, as demonstrated by Katara in The Siege of the North Part 1, a Waterbender may surround a foe in a viscous sphere of water and then freeze it, trapping their opponent inside.
Ice Floor: With a sufficient amount of water a master can cover a large area of the ground with ice, trapping enemies' feet in ice and allowing the Waterbender to slide around. Pakku performed this during the Order of the White Lotus invasion of Ba Sing Se.
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 in "The Southern Raiders".
Razor Rings: An experienced Waterbender can create multiple simultaneous water rings capable of cutting. Katara used this in "The Swamp" against Huu.
Ice Daggers: Much like Ice Claws, Ice Daggers form on your fingers and shoot at high speeds away from you. Katara used these in "The Waterbending Master" against Master Pakku.
Avatar Level Waterbending
Tsunamis: Since they can control larger bodies of water, Avatars are capable of creating and controlling water bodies of far greater size and scale, including causing massive tsunamis, at will. First seen by Avatar Kuruk in "The Avatar State", he creates a large wave that he then uses to ride on. A large wave can be made by a Waterbender by making a circular motion with his/her arms. In "The Awakening", Aang and Princess Yue create a large tsunami that brings Aang to safety.
Remote Waterbending: As seen in "Sozin's Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang", Avatars can use Waterbending from distances which a Waterbender would not normally be able to. While in combat with Ozai Aang goes into the Avatar State and pulls water in from the sea towards himself to make part of his elemental sphere. After defeating Ozai, Aang raises the tides of the sea to put out the fire at Wulong Forest caused by Ozai and his airships.
Water Compression: Normally nearly incompressible, 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 does so when creating his Elemental Sphere when preparing to pursue Ozai in "Sozin's Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang".
Strengthened and Enhanced Waterbending
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 is only possible during the full moon by even master level Waterbenders, but it is unknown if an Avatar, who wields considerably more power, would be able to Bloodbend at any time. A Waterbender can also resist Bloodbending during this period for the same reasons. 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.
Opposing Bending Art
Waterbending is the opposing bending art to Firebending, though it is similar in its need for inner discipline 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. The series has repeatedly illustrated that 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, (his opposing natural element), as "especially challenging", and called mastering the four elements "bitter work", which is also the title of the episode in which Aang tries to master his natural opposite, Earthbending. Even when in combat situations, Roku favors Firebending, Earthbending and Airbending above Waterbending, as evident in the "The Avatar and the Fire Lord", where Roku does not use Waterbending to fight the volcano, despite being surrounded by water.
Iroh created a Firebending technique that uses Waterbending philosophy to redirect 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 also was able to use the technique.
So far, the only times a weapon has been used with Waterbending is when Avatar Kyoshi uses her fans to create a wave in "Avatar Day", and in "The Earth King", when Aang used his staff to freeze water. It has been stated that, given their almost "Samurai-like" cutting techniques, a katana or a cane sword would be the best weapon suited for a Waterbender. However, Waterbenders do carry water around in water skins when they are in places where there is little water, such as the desert. These skins carry various amounts of water depending on their size.
There are three Waterbending Styles known to exist in the Avatar universe, namely Northern Style, Southern Style, and Foggy Swamp Style. Due to the circumstances of the war the Southern Style is effectively extinct. Hama was the only Southern Water Tribe Waterbender left in Aang's time to be fully trained in the Southern Style, and it is not clear how much she taught 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 very 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 Waterbenders seem to traditionally perform more defensive, strategic, and architectural techniques in Waterbending, while Southern Waterbenders seemed to have been more aggressive when fighting and showed to have used more offensive techniques.
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 very 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. Although one member was seen turning water into ice during "The Day of Black Sun, Part 1: The Invasion" when a lance went through the submarines hull and water started pouring in, one of the swamp tribesmen turned the flow into ice to stop the flow. One of the Swamp Tribesmen, Huu, was able to develop Plantbending, a technique seen performed only by him. It is unlikely that other polar Waterbenders are aware of this technique, though Hama didn't express surprise when learning of it, preferring to remove the water from plants rather than manipulating the plant.
The battle capabilities of the style seem to be very accurate, since during "The Day of Black Sun, Part 1: The Invasion", Tho, Due and the other Swamp Waterbenders used this unique style in battle: using 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.
Waterbenders can sometimes use a unique sub-skill: the ability to heal wounds 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 then glows with a brilliant, silver-colored light. The use of healing waterbending techniques is generally taught only to female waterbenders of the Northern Water Tribe.
The symbol for water and Waterbending is a circle comprised of 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 spirit work together (The moon is symbolized by the spherical border while the ocean spirit is 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.
Video of Waterbening
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