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In this question, Korra was apparently about 6 years old or so when the Order of the White Lotus discovered her and formally recoginsed her as the avatar. Before that, she was just living in the south pole with her water tribe parents.

It's reasonable that she could have learned water bending from her father, who is shown to be a waterbender in season 2, but how could Korra have been able to bend earth and fire at that age without any training?

Aang was 12 years old throughout the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and at first only knew airbending (avatar state notwithstanding) because he was raised and trained by airbenders. He had to specifically seek out masters from other nations to learn the other bending skills, he wasn't just born with the knowledge to waterbender or whatever.

Also, in season 3 of Avatar: The Last Airbender, there's an episode about Avatar Roku's life, who also didn't bend more than one element before discovering that he was the Avatar and tracking down teachers to learn to bend the other elements. This sets a precedent (of only two Avatars vs. one Avatar, admittedly) for Avatars generally only learning to bend other elements after seeking training.

So how come Korra is different? How could she know how to bend earth and fire without any training?


From comments and answers, I can see that the out-of-universe reasons are being focused on, which is interesting and all, but I was more interested in an in-universe explanation. How can she learn to bend earth and fire without teachers? Aang needed teachers...

Were there teachers I didn't notice? Was there a firebender or earthbender living in the south pole? Or is there any other established in-universe examples of people learning bending all by themselves with no teachers or examples?

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    Not an answer, but I always felt that this was a way to contrast Korra and Aang - while Aang almost instinctively masters the Spiritual/Mental aspects of being the Avatar, he struggles to learn the actual Bending/Physical aspects necessary to fulfil his destiny. Korra has the opposite problem - her skill with Bending is inherent, but she's more likely to charge in, fists-first, instead of thinking or mediating disputes. They are on different journeys, from different starting points. – Chronocidal Aug 28 at 13:27
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    @Chronocidal This is further shown with Korra being super hyped about being the Avatar, while Aang's reaction was to run away. – Parrotmaster Aug 28 at 13:42
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    This is also something of a “why are things the way they are?” kind of question. Why are some kids born able to compose music with no training, while others are tone-deaf? Etc. Korra is a different person than Aang. – Dúthomhas Aug 28 at 14:54
  • Aang, is a fairly quick learn at least as far as water bending goes, hes able to pick up the basics in minutes. – Himarm Aug 28 at 19:29
  • Not a full answer, but I have the feeling that as Aang was entrapped so long inside the iceberg (100 years), the spirit inside him was eager to develop its power, hence the quick learning of his three other masteries (less than a year). He also died at a young age (around 60) for this reason. When Korra was born, Raava needed to expand itself faster than before, thus developping three masteries at young age. But that's just my theory. – Lyzvaleska Aug 29 at 16:05
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I hesitate to say "we don't know", but it's never stated whether Korra was taught to earthbend and firebend at that age, or whether she just learnt it on her own. What is clear is that the Avatar can learn to bend other elements at a precocious age - because we see Korra doing just that. So either way, I'd say she did it just through sheer latent ability.

So why couldn't Aang?

I may be misremembering here, but I believe that Aang ran away from the Air Nomads (and got frozen) very shortly after learning he was the Avatar, because he was unable to handle the responsibility. So he never got the chance to learn other elements until after he was frozen, and he wouldn't have learned them prior to then because he didn't know he was the Avatar yet.

Korra, on the other hand, evidently learned she was the Avatar at a much younger age, and therefore was able to begin learning to bend other elements (one way or the other) long before Aang did.

So I don't believe that Korra, in Avatar terms, is actually that special in learning to bend at such a young age. Rather, Aang is just a special case, due to the Nomads waiting so long to tell him he was the Avatar, and his own reluctance to embrace the role.

  • I like the frame challenge in the last paragraph; that it might be Aang who is the special case here, not Korra like I assumed. – NathanS Aug 29 at 16:36
  • Actually, scratch that, I've just remembered that Roku was the same as Aang (see my new paragraph edited into my question), which is maybe evidence that Korra is still the special case after all... – NathanS Aug 29 at 16:43
  • Actually, despite Roku, I've reconsidered my position here; maybe the frame challenge is still a valid one? Aang clearly was happy simply being an airbender and didn't want for much else; this also fits culturally with their monastic lifestyle. Korra, on the other hand, jumped into her Avatar role happily, rather than, as you put it, run away like Aang did because he could not handle the responsibility. Who knows why Roku didn't learn anything earlier, we don't have as much information on him besides that one episode in ATLA season 3. So I've decided to accept your answer after all. – NathanS Sep 2 at 9:48
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Aang was raised as an Airbender from an early age - but he was a monk. The Water Tribe might choose to train fishing, cooking, hunting or sewing first instead, among other skills.

The 4 Air Temples gave an easy way for the Air Nomads born when the previous Avatar was born to be tested quickly, while the Order of the White Lotus were apparently hunting down Water Tribe babies for 6 years after Aang's death.

Perhaps Korra wasn't taught to Waterbend from a young age, but instead heard stories about Firebenders and Earthbenders. One day she pretends to Bend those elements while playing, only to accidentally succeed, while Aang never even tried other elements...

And, once she's managed one non-water element, why not try another?

Certainly, if you watch young children playing, you'll often see them pretending to have powers or cast spells - imagine if it actually worked!

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In the commentaries of the first episode, we can see that, as @Chronocidal already mentioned, this was made to intentionally differentiate Korra's personality from Aang's.

The creators didn't want to make "Aang as a girl from the Water tribe", the reluctant hero and such. They wanted Korra to be more impetuous and eager.

Although, as the series advance we do see a more cautious and deliberate Korra, which is great to show how the character has grown since the early episodes.

This is a partial transcript from commentaries made by Bryan Konietzko in the first episode, Welcome to Republic City, that supports what I just said:

And uh pretty early on, we had an idea for this ... this introduction to Korra and it was the idea that Aang was such a reluctant hero, um ... which you know is one kind of archetype. So with Korra ... the whole idea, like, if Mike and I were gonna come back to this world, we just ... we didn't want to water down the story arcs and character arcs of our previous characters, you know. We love those characters, we love that story, but we felt that was the story we set out to tell. We finished it and uh ... if we were gonna come back we wanted to do something for us that ... that at least for us was fresh and new and one way to do that was to do a new Avatar and to make that new Avatar as different as possible from Aang[...]

[...]I just thought, "What if it's a girl?". And you know that was just ... that's not the only difference between Korra and Aang but it was just, uh, like ... that one idea for me just kinda opened up this new possibility and I called Mike and he was like, "Huh. Yeah, that's cool" and from there it uh lead to her character. But anyways the idea that we wanted to see her as this toddler who wants to be the Avatar[...]

The source can be found here.

Also, in the Making of a Legend, which is a series of short commentaries made by both Bryan and Mike Dante Dimartino, we see that this is a vision shared by the latter.

Bryan: First episode of The Legend of Korra. I think the idea was that Aang was this reluctant hero, he didn't want to be the Avatar, he didn't want the responsibility of saving the world. [Clip of the Order of the White Lotus meeting Korra for the first time.] Korra right off the bat, the total opposite. At four years old, she could already bend fire, earth, and water.

Mike: Yeah, we wanted her to not be the reluctant hero like Aang was. And she's ... she's ready to go out there and start being the Avatar. Even when she's, four years old.

The source can be found here, right at the beginning of the page.

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