Special episode of the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender titled “Avatar: The Making of a Legend” showcases some of the developments that laid the groundwork for physical movement in the Avatar franchise. In the clip, Sifu Kisu, a martial artist, describes the consulting work he did for the animators to better understand the action they wanted to show in the series. In the end, he decided that the best way to get the basic style rooted in the minds of animators was to literally teach them martial arts.
It couldn’t be easy either,” Sifu Kisu points out in a 2010 documentary. “Spirits of the Avatar” that each of the four bending styles is based on a unique shape. Water magic is based on tai chi, fire magic is based on Northern Shaolin, earth magic is based on Hong Ga, and air magic is based on bagua. If you are not familiar with the differences between the two, just be aware that while all of these martial arts fighting styles are completely unique practices with very little overlap.
More specifically, some of the characters in the series use forms of martial arts that are unique to them. Toph (Michaela Jill Murphy), for example, uses a chow gar to match her aggressive close range fighting style. While it takes a deeper understanding than light reading to truly understand what it all means, suffice it to say that the Avatar team, happily led by Sifu Kisul, knew exactly what they were doing and it shows.