The symbol for earth and earthbending is a tall rough isoceles trapezoidal shape; the base of which is made up of the Bagua trigram "Kun," denoting "earth." Inside, at the top, is a spiral. The symbol is present on wooden "elemental solitaire" cards owned by the Fire Nation's General Iroh.
Supposedly humans first learned earthbending by observing and imitating the geokinetic powers of badgermoles that inhabit the mountains in what is now
'Earthbending' is written as 運土術 which in literal terms actually means 'move earth art' in Chinese.
Earthbending is generally based on the real styles of Hung Gar of Kung Fu, which features heavily rooted stances and strong kicks and punches that evoke the mass and power of earth. The martial art is based on the movements of animals, including the tiger, which represents Hard Power; utilized when initiating hard blows, and the crane, which embodies Soft Power; used to guide more graceful attacks and to land gently back on the Earth. There are exceptions to this facet, as the blind Earthbender, Toph, uses a style based on Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu. Unlike other bending disciplines, earthbending maintains a balance between offensive and defensive capabilities.
Earthbenders use a balance of strength and defense to overwhelm opponents. Common attacks involve levitating nearby earth and stone, and propelling them at foes by way of a punching or kicking motion. A levitated slab of rock can also double as a shield when positioned in front of a bender. Striking the ground with feet, fists, or hammers creates localized earthquakes or fissures to throw opponents off-balance. Earthbending Masters can turn the ground to quicksand to immobilize an enemy, or catapult into the air and soften the earth and ensure a safe landing. Some can tunnel through the earth to out-maneuver their foes. They are typically barefoot, presumably to increase their connection with the earth. Earthbenders have been shown to use hammers and fans to augment their bending, and it has been stated that the Chinese great sword Dadao (heavy war sword, or literally "big knife") would also be best suited for a strong Earthbender. Aang has also demonstrated earthbending by in conjunction with his Glider Staff. Some Earthbenders, can go as far as to engender makeshift armor out of Earth. An Avatar can move hill size statues at will and even fracture landmasses, as demonstrated by Avatar Kyoshi during the creation of
The principle of Jing is the essence of battle strategy, with a total of 85 possible actions. Positive Jing occurs when one chooses to fight while negative Jing is when one chooses to evade. The Earthbending discipline stresses Neutral Jing, which involves listening, waiting, and attacking at the right moment.
Earthbending is not limited to rock or soil alone. An Earthbender additionally can manipulate other earth-based substances including coal, sand, and crystals. Bending earthly substances originating from outer space, such as meteorites, is also within the scope of an Earthbenders' ability. Earthbenders also possess limited magnetic capabilities, allowing them to grasp vertical surfaces and cling unsupported to earthen structures. Furthermore, Earthbenders with an especially strong awareness for earth, like Toph, can also bend metal, as it still contains minute amounts of some unrefined earth. Her "sight" enables her to locate and target the small earth fragments that would go undetected by even the best Earthbenders.
Earthbending is the opposing bending art to Airbending. When first learning to Earthbend, the pupil must first learn confrontational tactics and familiarity with the brute strength necessary to work with earth. This contrasts with the emphasis of Airbenders on mobility and evasion.
Sandbenders are Earthbenders who have adapted to live in the Si Wong Desert. They utilize earthbending in a specialized style, which emphasizes the manipulation of sand. They can move quickly in the desert on specialized wooden catamaran sailers that are propelled by bending miniature, localized sandstorms behind their sails. Because sand is sediment which travels in flows, their style resembles air- and waterbending more than earthbending. It is displayed that most, if not all, Earthbenders are capable of easily bending sand, though the Sandbenders of the Desert are especially proficient with it due to their particular habitat.
The inability to bend metal is first demonstrated in Imprisoned when Earthbender prisoners, taken captive by the Fire Nation, are brought to a completely metal rig in the middle of the ocean. The Earthbenders' helplessness due to their situation is repeatedly stressed.
Metalbending is a skill that, as of the end of Book 2: Earth, only Toph possesses. Most Earthbenders are unable to affect processed metals. Usually, the trace amount of earth still present in metal is so minute that it goes undetected even to the best Earthbenders. However, due to her ability to see earth with her eyes, can “see” them in other ways, Toph is able to locate the small fragments of earth in metal, target them, and utilize them to "bend" the metal portion.
After being separated from the others by a letter presumably sent by her mother, Toph is captured in a metal cage by Xin Fu and her former teacher, Master Yu. During the next episode, "The Guru," she tries desperately to break the cage until one of her captors boasts that, even if she was the best Earthbender alive, it is impossible to bend metal. It is at that exact moment that Guru Pathik is explaining to Aang about the light chakra and how it is blocked by illusion. He goes on to explain that it is an illusion that the four nations are different, or that air is any different from earth, and also how even metal ultimately is simply just earth that has been purified and refined. Toph realizes this herself and starts meditating on her cage trying to feel the vibrations of the trace amounts of earth in the metal. She then utilizes these traces of earth to escape and trap her captors within the cage.
An Earthbender's powers are firmly rooted to the ground they stand on. Taking them any substantial distance away from the earth, such as on the ocean, strips them of their powers. Additionally, because of their inability to bend processed metals and wooden materials, the bending abilities of an Earthbender can be negated, with the exception of Toph when it's a metal barrier.