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"What I'd give to be a metalbender."

—Aang, in Avatar: The Last Airbender Book 2: Episode 13, "The Drill"

In the The Legend of Korra Book 3 episode "Old Wounds", Su Yin, one of Toph's daughters, is surprised to find that Korra has never been taught how to metalbend and takes the time to teach her. Korra learns the basics of the art and proudly proclaims that she is "the first metalbending Avatar."

It's strange that Korra is the first. Why not Aang? Why didn't Toph, mother of Su Yin, teach Aang how to metalbend?

  • As the quote above indicates, Aang was interested in metalbending (albeit, he did say that in the moment)
  • We learn from the post-series comics and The Legend of Korra that Toph founded a metalbending academy, so she definitely had the ability to teach others how to metalbend.
  • Toph was good friends with Aang, so it seems likely that she would have been willing to teach him.
  • Korra picked up metalbending fairly easily and there is nothing to suggest that Aang would have been unable to learn how to metalbend

So why didn't Toph ever teach Aang how to metalbend?

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    Remember that Aang had a lot of difficulty with Earthbending in general. It's the element opposite to his natural Airbending, so it's possible that he just had so much difficulty that he never achieved enough control to successfully bend metal. – phantom42 Oct 20 '14 at 16:44
  • Also, Toph isn't what you'd call "patient." Aang may not have been predisposed to be a metalbender, but Toph may also just not have been interested in sticking with it until he figured it out. – Nerrolken Oct 20 '14 at 17:04
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    Do we know when Toph really learned metal-bending (not just discovered it) and started teaching it? It could've been later in life when Aang was busy/elsewhere/had no pressing need to learn it. – TylerH Oct 20 '14 at 18:20
  • @TylerH In the post-show comic The Search (set one year after the show), it is specifically stated that Toph has begun teaching others how to metalbend at her new academy. That leaves nearly 50 years between that time and Aang's death. – Thunderforge Oct 20 '14 at 19:12
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Since Earth-bending was diametrically-opposed to Aang's air mastery, it might have contributed to difficulty with the enhanced form. As with so many things Avatar, there is talent, ability and predisposition to take into account when dealing with any bending. Interest does not always equal ability.

Evidence of potential

  • Avatar Aang was an air-bending master who became a master at the age of 12. His mastery of air was such few had ever achieved such mastery so early. He was also technically one of the youngest Avatars ever having gained control of all four elements at the age of 13.

  • While Aang would never master any subsets of the four bending abilities, his mastery of air was so great he would create his own specialized bending techniques (the air scooter) and with his air-bending alone be able to fight multiple opponents, other masters, and often without causing lasting harm to his opponents. He was also a more than apt teacher training Tenzin to be an air-bending master as well.

  • Aang did learn the seismic sense from Toph and he learned to redirect lightning, two abilities rarely learned by anyone but masters in their respective arts.

Reasons for reluctance

  • While Aang would eventually learn to be an excellent Earth-bender, using it second only to his air-bending skills, Earth-bending was diametrically-opposed to his mastery of air-bending.

  • Air-benders avoid damage using their mobility as a weapon when they bend, earth-benders absorb damage waiting for the proper moment to summon the earth to strike.

  • Aang never learned any of the subset abilities for any of the four elements. He did, however, acquire the ability to energy-bend, a power rarely seen in an Avatar. He may have also been one of the only Avatars to actually use that power.

  • We are never certain of what took place after the adventures of the series ends. It is not clear if Aang ever had time or interest (or the ability to learn) metal-bending even if he wanted to.

  • In the end, perhaps the potential was there, but Aang on the job training and constant threats certainly could have interfered with the level of depth, meditation and focus he may have needed for such mastery ASSUMING he could learn more than one advanced subset ability AFTER he acquired energy-bending.

Out of Universe Speculation based on Observations

  • We also know this about many of the subset abilities. Most benders get one and only one. Perhaps Aang's inability to use any of them is due to his development of Energy-bending.

  • This may have prevented his acquisition of any subset abilities sacrificing breadth for depth, a common side-effect of the generalist.

  • Most importantly, whose to say SHE DIDN'T TRY? We don't know for certain. She may have tried and Aang simply couldn't, didn't or wouldn't be able to for some reason we are currently not privy to.

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    While I agree with some of your points (e.g. him being diametrically opposed to earthbending), it seems like some of your other points support him being able to learn it (e.g. learning seismic sense from Toph, being able to master it all at a young age, etc.) Perhaps the answer could be a bit more focused? – Thunderforge Oct 20 '14 at 17:47
  • Also, wasn't Aang 14 when he mastered all four elements? He was 12 at the beginning of the series when he came out of the ice, but I thought the entire series took almost two years to finish in-universe? Granted, that's nitpicking but still... – Omegacron Oct 20 '14 at 18:44
  • He wasn't 14 by the end of the series: the whole series happened in under 1 year, in-universe time. See avatar.wikia.com/wiki/History_of_the_World_of_Avatar, particularly that at the Winter Solstice (Book 1, Episode 8), Roku told him that he'd have to defeat the Fire Lord before the end of Summer, because of Sozin's Comet. I don't know exactly how long it was between Episode 1 and 8 exactly, but the series still fits in under a year. – Tim S. Oct 21 '14 at 0:05
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    If you feel your answer is the correct one, feel free to choose it. I simply opted to expand on the concept of him not lacking the talent (as most people might erroneously assume) and elaborate on the idea that we have seen several mitigating circumstances which might have made it difficult for him to learn it. I don't assume the difficulty with earth-bending because Aang is quite the earth-bender despite his natural inclination against to the style. It becomes the power he uses the most AFTER air-bending. – Thaddeus Howze Oct 21 '14 at 15:01
  • @Thaddeus I made an edit that will hopefully be reviewed soon, which incorporates some of your last comment (which clarified why you talked about his talent, so thanks) and merged the observations section into your arguments to make them a bit stronger. If you don't like it, you can revert it. Also, I realized that Korra learned both energybending and metalbending, so I softened the argument that energybending somehow prevented Aang from learning it (without getting rid of the argument entirely; it's still a possibility). – Thunderforge Oct 21 '14 at 21:08
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Aang had the most difficulty mastering earthbending, which metalbending is based on

Metalbending an extension of earthbending, which was the element that Aang had the most difficulty mastering. Given that Aang was able to learn so many other sub-forms of bending (e.g. lightning redirection, seismic sense, energybending) and there is no evidence to suggest that this breadth of study somehow limited his ability to learn new forms of bending, this seems to be the most likely reason.

This is corroborated by the post-show comic series The Search, which takes place 1 year after the original series. In it, the gang specifically states that Toph is not present because she is teaching others how to metalbend. Since this was a period of relative peace and Aang had nearly fifty years of life ahead of him, it seems likely that he would have had plenty of time to learn how to metalbend if he were able to, thus supporting that idea that Aang could not, likely because of his difficulty in mastering the element.

  • Lightning redirection is not the same as lightning generation. It is more like a form of energy bending. The same with the seismic sense. These abilities act more as an extension of Aang's awareness of energy and less as subsets of fire-bending or earth-bending. He does not master any of the subforms of the primary element bending. If anything, he extends his master of air and uses both spirit and energy bending in more advanced ways. – Thaddeus Howze Oct 20 '14 at 21:18
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In season 3 of the Legend of Korra, Bolin exhibits both a yearning to learn metalbending, and a fear that he would fall short, and be one of the majority of earthbenders who simply cannot metalbend. We learn from that season that only a small portion of earthbenders can bend metal, not all of them. It's something intrinsic to their bending powers that they can either be taught to do, or they cannot be. Bolin eventually discovers that while he's not a metalbender, he's a lavabander, possibly an even more powerful sub-discipline of the earthbending art.

Aang was quite possibly simply an earthbender who couldn't bend metal. While he was a masterful airbender, he never showed particularly great skill with the other three elements, and he showed great difficulty learning earthbending. But since Korra can bend metal, should she choose to refine and master this gift, metalbending will no doubt be available to future avatars to use when they enter the Avatar state.

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Firstly, I find it hard to believe that Aang simply lacked the aptitude. When Toph first discovered Metalbending it was established as being directly related to her seismic sense; she used this to detect the impurities in the iron before she was able to manipulate metal using Earthbending. In other words if you can sense those impurities you can learn Metalbending. This is enforced by Suyin Beifong(a Master Metalbender in her own right) who believes the only true barriers to an Earthbender learning Metalbending are self-imposed.
As Aang masters seismic sense to the extent of training blindfolded against both Toph and Katara and intercepting Ozai's attempted surprise attack in the final battle it stands to reason he could, in fact, learn Metal Bending were he to train under Toph.

If it were something to do with heritage then Korra, who is Water Tribe, couldn't possibly have a trait unique to the Earth Kingdom any more than Aang could. I know some people will argue that Earth being Air's opposite is the reason Aang simply can't learn an advanced Earth Bending technique, but aside from repeating myself about seismic sense I think it's important to understand this is only a difficulty in learning curve that is faced by most Avatar's due to starting out in learning their own cultures bending independently. Korra proves this cultural basis of learning difficulty by learning Earth and Firebending at an unprecedented age and having no aversion or weakness towards Firebending. She subsequently has the most difficulty with Airbending. Furthermore, after overcoming his initial difficulties Aang picks up Earthbending at a phenomenal rate, his mental block having no further influence on his learning.

I suspect that at first Aang was busy with settling matters throughout the world after a century of war, including the establishment of Republic City. After that he probably wanted to settle down with Katara and then pass on Air Nomad culture and bending to Tenzin. Similar to Roku he reached a point in life where his own family became a priority. The reality is that with 4 elements Mastered as well as Energy Bending he is extremely powerful without Metal Bending. Aang achieved a huge amount in a short time and chose to rest rather than chase every conceivable aspect of Bending. As Iroh said to Aang under Ba Sing Se; 'Protection and power are overrated. I think you are very wise to choose happiness and love...'

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Because "Spiritually" throughout the series of the times before korra the times of Aang the avatar up until obviously toph learned metalbending metal was usually seen as "bad" and "monstrous" and was sort of apart of Aangs type of "depression" he felt when he saw the aftermath of the genocide of airbending and airbenders and to Aang "metal" was the "antithesis" of spiritualness a destructive force almost uncontrollable that is designed to obliterate anything in its way and the specific "trauma" of seeing the after effects of such a genocide caused by these "machines" is too hard to overcome and in a way if Aang truly mastered metalbending deep within his subconscious he would believe has has "become" apart of the killings which led to the downfall of all airbenders but after reincarnation "korra" though being a incarnation of the avatar is different to "Aang" and has "grown" up her life surrounded by "many" waterbenders that are still with her because ultimately every avatar has different life experiences which hinders or helps them in there quest to master all the elements.

  • Your post is hard to follow, but it doesn't appear to answer the question. – Blackwood Jun 1 at 22:01
  • My answer basically says "metal" is what caused the killing of the airbenders and subconsciously that's why Aang can't seem to master it – I want Toph Beifong as my GF Jun 1 at 22:02
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    Then I strongly suggest you edit it to make that clearer, as well as splitting that into paragraphs and sentences :) – Jenayah Jun 1 at 22:14

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