Avatar: Kyoshi Was a Trash Earthbender
Avatar Kyoshi was legendary by The Last Airbender, but even she had to start somewhere.
By the time of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the ancient Avatar, Kyoshi, was a figure of mythic proportions, legendary for her bending prowess. The more fans learned about her the more superlative her abilities seemed to get, but just like any other Bender, she was not always that way. Kyoshi’s early problems with earthbending were unique. Delving into her origins reveals not just how human the legendary Avatar actually was, but also that she was a downright terrible Earthbender before she was a legend.
The displays of bending that define the true masters of the Avatar franchise are nearly always prove huge, monstrous moves performed at a scope that dwarfs all others. Aang’s Avatar State is so awe-inspiring early on because of how he rips apart buildings and sweeps away entire fleets of ships, and even more typical masters like Bumi and Iroh display overwhelming power demonstrative of their status. Yet when it comes to Kyoshi, it turns out there are more puzzling questions about what defines a skilled Bender.
In The Rise of Kyoshi, the first Avatar novel by author F.C. Yee, Kyoshi does not even realize she is the Avatar at the start of the story. Untrained in her Earthbending, she does not even consider herself particularly special and has little reason to hone her abilities. It is revealed early on that Kyoshi actually has the opposite problem of most Earthbenders. While she has raw power in abundance, said to be able to crack apart mountains, her finesse is totally lacking in those early days. This offers insight into the age-old debate among Avatar fans about what defines a master Bender.
Whenever Kyoshi tries to bend smaller amounts of earth she invariably destroys whatever she is focusing on, and as she realizes the destiny ahead of her as Avatar, she undergoes training to gain the control other Earthbenders show in spades. Her war fans see their most valuable usage during her early training, honing in Kyoshi’s powers precisely enough to slice a pebble in half when it is thrown at her. While others are naturally privileged with an ability to bend such minute amounts of earth, Kyoshi gains it through hard work.
Her struggles early on reinforce Kyoshi’s human side, and it’s only then that she truly reaches the legendary status that fans first knew her for. At times throughout the first novel, Kyoshi unleashes the full force of her earthbending without restraint, tilting over entire buildings or carving 50-foot trenches around an expansive estate. Yet her mastery of earthbending is only defined once she is capable of subtler maneuvers. By The Shadow of Kyoshi, she could suffocate men with hunks of wet clay, or retrieve errant shards of glass from a wound sustained in battle.
This goes to show how true mastery in Avatar is a union between the precise and the powerful. Even as a novice Kyoshi could unleash gargantuan displays of earthbending, but in her first duel against another Earthbender that power proves useless, as he mirrors her movements to cancel out her bending. In learning to defeat the greatest villains of her era, Kyoshi herself had to learn a balance between those extremes that so often prove crucial in Avatar. As ever, the ending echoes the beginning: Kyoshi’s earthbending skills were great, but she had a lot learn before she was ready to save the world.
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