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In the finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, it's revealed that there's another form of bending called energybending. This was the form of bending used by people before the Avatar existed, and before the specialized element bending was created.

Since then, the knowledge of energybending has been almost completely lost. Aang only learned of it through the ancient lion turtle. How was energybending lost to humanity? Somehow, only the Avatar has the capability to energybend in the modern day. Wouldn't the capability to energybend fall from parent to child like other bending forms? Why isn't there a 5th nation of energybenders in modern day?

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It appears the power of energy-bending was intentionally forgotten. Since the elemental-bending abilities appear to be region specific, perhaps the same event that caused energy-bending to be forgotten, caused each region's particular ability among the people of that region.

There must have been a catalyst event that caused humans to abandon energy-bending nearly simultaneously because the Four Nations share both a history and a timeline, indicating they all developed their specialized bending (and subset abilities) at nearly the same time.

Energy-bending is the ability to bend life energy. It predates the four main bending arts, as well as the arrival of the Avatar and the formation of the Four Nations.

"In the era before the Avatar, we bent not the elements but the energy within ourselves. To bend another's energy, your own spirit must be unbendable or you will be corrupted and destroyed." — The lion turtle teaching Aang about the nature of energybending in "Sozin's Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang". — The Avatar Wiki - Energy-bending

No one besides the lion turtle even remembered Energy-bending until he taught it to Aang. None of the incarnations of the Avatar remembered it either, since Aang was unable to discern a solution during the time before his final battle with the Firelord Ozai.

For such a formidable capability to be lost, it had to be dangerous or difficult. It was most likely both. If we assume that elemental bending was easier for humans to learn, then it make sense that the flamboyant and very effective forms of elemental bending would supplant the more dangerous and spiritually rigorous energy-bending.

Energy-bending is an extremely powerful and potentially dangerous technique. If the bender's spirit is even slightly weak, or bendable, then they will be infected by the spirit of the one they are bending. As a result, the bender can be corrupted and even killed. — The Avatar Wiki - Energy-bending

Energy bending only seems to have two uses:

  • Knowledge transfer
  • Removal of the ability to bend an element

It makes sense there would be other abilities within energy-bending but whatever caused the ability to be intentionally lost, had to be something that was perpetuated by every nation. Perhaps the Order of the White Lotus knows more than they are sharing.

The Order of the White Lotus is an ancient and formerly secret society that transcends the boundaries of the four nations, seeking philosophy, beauty, and truth. They are devoted to the sharing of ancient knowledge across national and political divides. The Order's main purpose is to find each new Avatar, see to his or her training, and provide protection. --The Avatar Wiki, The Order of the White Lotus

Emphasis is mine, implying perhaps the OWL knows why there is an Avatar at all, since they are one of the only organizations that predates the Four Nations and is tasked to find and protect the budding Avatar until their abilities mature.

  • Is there any evidence that a human was capable of energy-bending until Aang? The quote from the lion turtle at the end of The Last Airbender mentions "we bent... the energy within ourselves." This seems to be referring collectively to the lion turtles. – Ellesedil Dec 3 '15 at 1:07
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Bending elements was the result of energy bending. With element bending passing on to the next generation, the need for energy bending lessened until it was forgotten. It seems it can give bending abilities too if that was the case.

  • Also, element bending is much safer. Would you want to use an art that may destroy you if you don't do it perfectly? – fire.eagle May 2 '12 at 17:50
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In the Legend of Korra, Wan the first Avatar is given the different bending abilities from the 4 different Lion Turtles. All humans lived in cities on the backs of lion turtles, each of whom were aligned with one element and could bestow it upon those humans whenever they ventured into the Spirit Wilds to hunt and gather food.The Lion Turtles would do energy bending on humans to give then their bending abilities, but, would then take it away after the hunt. Wan asks to keep the fire bending abilities before he is thrown out of his city. He then interferes with the dueling spirits Raava and Vaatu. Vaatu, the force of darkness and chaos. Raava is the spirit of peace and light and had tormented Vaatu for 10,000 years, until Wan interfered and Vaatu gets away. Eventually, Raava fuses with Wan, she became the Avatar Spirit. Together they imprisoned Vaatu. It appears that Avatar Aang was the first Avatar to learn energy bending from the lion turtle.

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Elemental Bending is a subset of Energy Bending, the dragons, badger moles, etc. used it to teach elemental bending.

  • Technically this could be true, as the first form of bending was energy bending. – AncientSwordRage Jun 17 '12 at 23:56

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