Bending, the ability to manipulate an element, is very significant to all aspects of life in the World of Avatar. There are five known bending arts; four of them bend a specific physical element, while the fifth bends the energy within the human body itself. The four elemental bending arts are based on the four classical elements; water, earth, fire, and air, and each are manipulated through certain martial art styles which are reminiscent of the qualities of the element itself. Certain benders are able to effectively manipulate their element with very minimum bodily movement, such as only their head. In even rarer cases, it is possible to perform their bending without the aid of physical movement at all, instead using sheer focus and force of will; a skill known as psychic bending.
The fifth bending art, energybending, is unlike the other four in that very little physical action is required to direct the bending itself. The four elemental bending arts are all dependent on the energy, or chi, within the human body, relying on its flow through the body to manipulate a specific element. Energybending, on the other hand, is concerned with the manipulation of the energy itself and is able to remove or restore one's bending abilities.
Airbending is one of the four elemental bending arts, specifically, the aerokinetic ability to control and manipulate currents of air. The peaceful Air Nomads utilized this type of bending in their everyday lives. Air is the element of freedom. The Air Nomads detached themselves from worldly problems and concerns; finding peace and freedom was the key to solve their flaws in life. Airbenders continually sought spiritual enlightenment, and, as a result, all children born into the Air Nomads were benders. The first airbenders learned their art from the flying bison. The key to airbending is flexibility and finding and following the path of least resistance. Airbending is notable for being almost purely defensive, as well as the most dynamic of the four bending arts. Airbenders can overwhelm many opponents at once with large and powerful attacks that could prove fatal; however, due to the pacifist nature of the Air Nomads, such attacks are rarely used.
Waterbending, one of the four elemental bending arts, is the hydrokinetic ability to control water, as well as its many forms. This type of bending is utilized by the people of the Water Tribes, who are divided into the Southern, the Northern, and the lesser known Foggy Swamp, 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 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 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.
Earthbending, one of the four elemental bending arts, is the geokinetic ability to manipulate earth and rock, in all their various forms. It is utilized by people of the Earth Kingdom. Earth is the element of substance, making earthbenders and their people diverse, strong, persistent, and enduring. The first earthbenders, Oma and Shu, learned the art from badgermoles. The key to earthbending is utilizing neutral jing, which involves waiting and listening for the right moment to strike and, when that moment comes, acting decisively. In other words, earthbenders generally endure their enemies' attacks until the right opportunity to counterattack reveals itself, then strike with unyielding force.
Firebending, one of the four elemental bending arts, is the pyrokinetic ability to control fire and is unique among the bending arts, as it is the only one in which the user can create their element. Firebending is practiced by the people of the Fire Nation, as well as the lesser known Sun Warriors. Fire is the element of power, consisting of overpowering force tempered by the unflinching will to accomplish tasks and desires. However, the recently militaristic Fire Nation twisted this into firebending being fueled by rage, hate, and anger. Firebending draws its power from the sun, and the first human firebenders derived their firebending techniques from the dragons. Firebending is notable for its intensive attacking style and general lack of adequate defense moves, although some notable firebenders utilize creative defensive moves; for example, Jeong Jeong could create walls of fire, and Zuko was able to simultaneously block and shoot down incoming objects.
Energybending is the ability to bend another person's life energy. It predates the four main bending arts, as well as the arrival of the Avatar and the formation of the four nations. Before the arrival of the Avatar into the world and the separation of the four elements, people bent the energy within themselves. At some point, they discovered the other four bending arts, and, over time, the knowledge to perform energybending was almost completely lost. The last known keeper of the art was the ancient lion turtle, who later passed it down to Avatar Aang, who used the ability to remove Fire Lord Ozai's firebending permanently. The art of energybending has been imbued in past Avatars, though extremely uncommon. The capabilities of energybending are not well understood; what is known is that bending a person's life energy can impart them with knowledge instantly, remove one's bending completely, or restore one's bending. This bending art is dissimilar to the others because it is so perilous to the user, which is why so few have ever used it. In addition, unlike how the four bending arts are a complete necessity for the Avatar to learn, energybending is optional.