Blog Post #11: Martial Arts in Animation

Hey everybody, so this week’s post was inspired by a comment that I made over this past weekend, and it has to do real-life martial arts styles that have been incorporated into animation, and naturally I will use the Avatar: The Last Airbender tv series as my reference.  First off, Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005) was a “anime style” tv series that ran on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008, the series was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko (The Avatar).  The series takes place in a fantastical world filled with fantastical creatures, spirits, and a human population in which some have the ability to manipulate, or “bend” one of the 4 basic elements; Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.  Moreover, the human population is subsquently divided into four distinct societies based off the 4 elements and these are the Water Tribe, The Earth Kingdom, The Air Nomads, and the Fire Nation (The Last Airbender ).  Now each of these societies have their own unique cultures, The Water Tribe is based off of the Inuit and Eskimo people, is split into two main sub-tribes, and each are based at the North and South Poles; The Earth Kingdom is a vast cosmopolitan kingdom whose captial, called Ba Sing Se, is sort of like Rome, in that it is the main center of commerce in the world of Avatar; The Air Nomads live high in there mountain temples where they practice detatchment from the world and live as monks; and finally there is the Fire Nation, which is an imperialistic and closed society where its leader, The Fire Lord, rules with complete authoritarian power over his subjects, and the Fire Nation seeks to subject the world to their rule as they are, in the series, in the midst of 100-year war of conquest over the other three nations.

Now, the series follows the main character, Aang, who is the Avatar and the last Air Nomad in existence.  The Avatar is the the spirit of the world incarnated as one person, in this case Aang, who is the only person capable of mastering all of the 4 elements and thus is tasked with keeping balance and peace in the world of Avatar.  Along with Aang are his companions; Katara and Sokka, two siblings, brother and sister, from the Southern Water Tribe who find and release Aang from an iceberg in which he has been in suspended animation for 100 years; Toph, a blind Earth-bending prodigy from very prominent Earth Kingdom family; Prince Zuko, the banished heir to the Fire Lord Ozai, who at first hunted down Aang in order to regain his throne and honor, but has since changed sides; Appa, who is Aang’s flying Sky Bison and the group’s main method of transport; and then their is Momo, who is a little flying lemur.

Alright, now that you know the basic setting and premise of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I can finally get to the main point of this blog post.  A great success of The Last Airbender, or one of its most intriguing apsects is how the creators were able to incorporate so much real-life cultural aspects into the world which they created.  Aside from the Inuit culture that they used for the Water Tribe, the creators drew largely, in fact predominantly, on various aspects of Chinese cultures, most especially in the area of martial arts.  In the world of Avatar each of the 4 different Bending styles (firebending, airbending, earthbending, and waterbending) are based off of 4 different existing martial arts movements and techniques which the creators used to show clear visual and physical differences between the Bending styles (The Last Airbender).  The each of the 4 Bending styles are based off of the following respective real-life martial arts, and they are:

Firebending —> Northern Shaolin Kung Fu

Earthbending —> Hung Ga Kung Fu

Waterbending —> T’ai chi ch’ uan, or Tai chi

Airbending—> Baguazhang

For a better explanation, please watch this video: Avatar Kung Fu Styles

P.S. The creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender have made a follow-up series called Avatar: The Legend of Korra which has recently premiered on Nickelodeon, so if you liked the Avatar: The LAst Airbender and/or you’re interested in seeing this newer series, then I highly recommend that you do.



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3 Comments on “Blog Post #11: Martial Arts in Animation”

  1. Kendra Prasad- Hist 389 Says:

    Hey, Mike! Your blog post today was very interesting. Personally, I never got too into The Last Airbender, but my younger sisters both did, so I saw a bunch of episodes while they were watching. The influence that the animators take from real martial arts is really fascinating. The martial arts are always full of graceful and fluent movements, and the animators of The Last Airbender made sure to keep these aspects alive and present.

  2. It’s neat to get a look into the background of the airbender. It’s not something I really looked much into, but when you bring it up a lot of the deeper background stuff can be seen. I suppose that’s one of the reasons it became such a huge hit, fact often goes well hidden beneath fiction.

  3. I only really kept up with the first season, a few episodes here an there, and the finale. Overall a very good show, but one thing that had always stood out to me since the beginning was the animation of the martial arts in the film. All the movements are so smooth a fluid, a vast contrast to the fighting in other shows like Dragon Ball Z. It seemed like real martial arts and provided a smooth style for the show.

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