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I'll admit that I'm more familiar with TLoK, rather than TLA, so maybe it was explained there, but this still confused me.

What is the point of the Avatar mastering all four bending arts? The Avatar's responsibility is to maintain balance, and be a link between the human and spirit worlds - mastering all four elements doesn't seem to improve (or even affect) their abilities in either regard.

I suppose that, when they must fight, having all four might be a good thing, but I would argue truly having mastery over four would only be a dubious improvement over having mastery over three.

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up vote 16 down vote accepted

There are several possible reasons:

  1. Politics. You're an earthbender. Say, a farmer. The current Avatar happens to have been born in the Fire Nation. This Avatar goes out and learns waterbending, air bending, is great at fire bending, but earthbending? Maybe the Avatar doesn't see the point, maybe that's just a real sticking point for them, but they don't do it. You, the humble earth kingdom farmer, realize that this Avatar doesn't speak for you.

  2. Discipline. Much of the Avatar ethos seems to be based on mastery of the self, in all its aspects. If you are the Avatar, mastery of each element is a fundamental part of your being. It is what you are, on a very basic, spiritual level, and I suspect it would be strongly at odds with in-universe philosphy to ignore any part of that.

  3. Versatility. Avatars fight. Avatars build. Avatars occasionally create landmasses just because they can. The more practical skills someone has, the more useful they become, and the Avatar basically gets to multiclass for free. There are situations where waterbending won't save your life, but airbending will. If you're going to be in danger, don't you want to be able to save your own ass in as many unexpected ways as possible?

  4. Planning for the future. Avatars (with the exception of Korra) are in touch with their past incarnations. You, as the Avatar, are a resource to your future selves. Your skills and knowledge get passed down for generations. You want to be able to do as many things as possible, as well as possible, to make it easier for the next guy to save the world all over again.

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+1 for multiclassing. –  Mark Gabriel Aug 24 at 7:53

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