In The Legend of Korra S02E07-08 Beginnings, we see how the first Avatar, Wan, came to be. During these episodes, we see him gain firebending, airbending, waterbending, and lastly earthbending from lion-turtles that carry human cities on their backs. However, in Avatar: The Last Airbender, it was established that humans learned bending from various animals. Firebenders learned from dragons, earthbenders from badger-moles, and so on.

In Beginnings, we see humans being granted bending by the lion-turtle when they leave a city. For people on short hunting excursions, this meant they were granted bending while hunting outside the city, then they were non-benders after they returned and the lion-turtle took back the bending ability.

This seems to be at odds with what had previously been established as the origins of element (and energy) bending. Can these be reconciled, or did the writers just retcon the origin of bending?

  • I don't see this as a retcon. Before humans could bend, someone had to teach them it was possible. Since the capacity appeared to be able to be bestowed if one is enlightened enough, it may have started as a lending program and eventually turned into a capacity that could be learned if you had the right spiritual capacity (whatever the unique element that allows for bending) to take place. Oct 19, 2013 at 4:46
  • Maybe the lion turtles just copied what they saw the first benders do?
    – svick
    Oct 19, 2013 at 17:35
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    How can radio-carbon dating be reconciled with the age of the Earth estimated from the Bible? Just because people within the world believe such and such a thing about their ancient past (and ten thousand years is well beyond the point where history becomes prehistory in the real world, so we really are talking about the far, far past) doesn't mean that it is necessarily correct. ATLA established what people in the world believed; this latest episode established the actual facts (and implied that there was at least some truth to the traditional beliefs).
    – evilsoup
    Oct 20, 2013 at 23:41
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    It's also explicitly stated that there are "dozens" of lion turtle cities. Maybe THESE firebenders learned one way, and THOSE firebenders learned a different way, etc. This, for example, is the likely explanation for the differences between the Fire Nation (i.e. Japanese) and Sun Warrior (i.e. Aztec) cultures: two different lion turtle cities.
    – Nerrolken
    May 26, 2015 at 16:27

6 Answers 6


I think humans had the ability to bend BEFORE they met their respective animal/spirit mentors.

The way I see it, humans had the capacity for bending, but not the skill to wield it properly. After Wan befriends the spirits, you can see him learning proper firebending technique from a dragon, after which the other proto-Fire Nation humans from his city comment how they had never seen anyone able to use fire like that. (I don't think they use the word "bend" even once throughout the two episodes.)

This tells me that after the humans left their lion turtle cities, they each eventually found their own "teachers", who helped them perfect their rudimentary powers. This theory is supported by the tattoos on the Air Nomads' foreheads: They aren't arrows. Air bison haven't become part of their culture yet.

(Also, I assume that the Sun Warriors came from a different lion turtle and learned from the dragons first, after which the Fire Nation "stole" their technique.)

  • Nice! I'd noticed that the Airbender tattoos were different in Wan's day, but I hadn't made the connection that the Sky Bison weren't there yet.
    – Nerrolken
    May 26, 2015 at 16:25

I'm going to assume that both are correct, and show a timeline that they can fit together in:

  1. The creation of the Avatar equivalent of Earth. /Mentioned in a season 1 episode/
  2. Humanity comes into existence.
  3. Energy bending is discovered and used. /Mentioned in season 3/
  4. Other bending formats are discovered, and energy bending falls out of style /Whole TOS timeline/
  5. More spirits start moving in, and humanity moves in with the lion turtles for protection. /I forget where this was mentioned. Probably a book./
  6. For the sake of practicality, people choose to store the bending abilities with the lionturtles, rather than have a divided society where only certain people can do certain jobs, or the lion turtles made this decision. /This isn't explicitly stated, but given how hazardous their world was at this time, it made sense./
  7. People spent so much time in these isolated cities, they forgot there were other cities. /Mentioned, but I forgot where. And this is horrifying from a genetic perspective./
  8. Eventually, the spirits left, and humanity left the lion turtles. /Shown, and I'm skipping details because lazy./
  9. For some reason, humanity remembered how the various bending skills were discovered, but aren't explicitly shown to remember the lion turtle era. There are several possible reasons for this. It's possible both are remembered, but only the earlier was mentioned in-series, this is plausible. It's also possible that humanity isn't proud of this genetic disaster of an era, and people chose not to carry the information onward, or mention it, etc. .

I'm not saying this is the official explanation; I'm just showing how the two are compatible.


I think that at first, humans got the bending from the lion turtles because, as they had said, the lion turtles protected the people. Then, they were said to no longer be needed and didn't grant the power of bending anymore, so there were no benders. Then, as time went on, more and more people became benders by remembering their ancestors could bend and trying to find ways to do it, with people eventually settling on the air bison, dragons, badgermoles, and the moon. They did learn it from the animals/celestial object, ut they did it to regain the power they once had. Either that or it was just legend, because if you think about it, that means that there could be multi-elemental benders that just studied a combination of those sources. Also, to my recollection, every time they claimed a source, they said "legemd has it" or "they say" like when Princess Yue said "The legends say the moon was the first waterbender. Our ancestors saw how it pushed and pulled the tides and learned how to do it themselves." But i don't know, still got ma hopes high for the second one XD that's cooler.


In Korra season 3 (I think it was Original Airbenders), Tenzin again cites the legend that airbending was originally learned from the flying bison. (Curiously, Korra didn't contradict him, even though her vision of Wan had shown a lion turtle granting airbending.)

My current theory is that the "humans learned bending from animals/the Moon" story is actually more of a legend, and the lion turtle origin is the true one.

When Aang encountered a lion turtle, the implication seemed to be that few people were even aware of its existence, so it's not surprising that its connection with the origin of bending was also forgotten.


During Wan's story he receives the power of fire, but there is a scene later where he is learning to bend the fire to his will, and wield it. In this scene the hunt master narrates that he's never seen anyone wield fire like Wan, while visually we see Wan doing the dancing dragon form with a white dragon (a nice nod to TLA).

  • Can you please detail on on your answer, e.g. in S1E13 (if possible even the minute : second the scene begins) we see that Wan does X, in S1E14, it's shown that... and so on.
    – Shade
    Mar 10, 2020 at 9:00
  • I'm not sure how this answers the question of how the story of bending matches from TLoK and TLA. Could you edit to clarify?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Mar 10, 2020 at 9:06

No. The lion turtles were the origin of the bending but the human wanted to be independent so the lion turtles gave element to who ever lived on him. (IMPORTANT POINT) But the lion turtles gave the element power to the animals too so if one day , one of the nation of element has been killed. The non benders can get the bending of the nation to recreate it so that the avatar cycle does stop. Or maybe the animal get to become the avatar. (just guessing the last sentence)


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