Zaheer used flight to its full extent in The Legend of Korra, but Aang may have unlocked the ability first in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Avatar‘The Legend of Korra introduced Zaheer, a villainous airbender with the unique ability to fly. He was apparently the first airbender in a thousand years to possess this ability – but Avatar Aang may have beaten him to the punch. The last air Master, shortly before being struck down by Azula’s infamous lightning bolt in Ba Sing Se.
Long before Zaheer received his airbending, he had admired the Air Nomad way of life and religiously studied their culture. He was particularly inspired by Guru Laghima, a renowned mystic who preached a kind of air nomadic spirituality that required complete detachment from all worldly pleasures. Zaheer’s devotion has given him an almost unparalleled spiritual connection. He was able to meditate in the spirit world even before he received bending, and once he did, he took to airbending like a fish to water.
Zaheer’s airbending was impressive – especially without formal training – but even he couldn’t fly as Guru Laghima had prescribed. To do this, he would have to give up all his earthly attachments, “enter the void and become wind”. Despite his best efforts, Zaheer couldn’t bring himself to give up on his love, P’Li, only unlocking the flight when she fell into the hands of the Beifong sisters. It was an impressive start to the lost art of airbending but, as @siccritic noted on TikTok, it may not have been the first time. Avatar shown the flight.
When Aang sought to master the Avatar state by The last air Master, he trained with Guru Pathik at the Eastern Air Temple to unlock his seven chakras. This process forced Aang to do some deep introspection and come to terms with some truths that he had tried to ignore. Although he was raised in an airbender society, Aang still had spiritual blocks to overcome. His sessions with Guru Pathik went well – until he had to open his seventh chakra.
To unlock his final chakra, Guru Pathik advised Aang to let go of all earthly attachments. Although it was a means to an entirely different end, his recommendation was very similar to Guru Laghima’s philosophy of abandoning all earthly ties. Like Zaheer, Aang struggled with this and ultimately refused to let go of his attachment to Katara. While meditating, he sensed that she was in danger in Ba Sing Se and rushed to her side to protect her.
When Aang arrived in Ba Sing Se, he was quickly cornered by Zuko, Azula, and several Dai Li agents. Realizing there was nothing else he could do, he formed a simple tent of dirt for protection and began to meditate to unlock both your seventh chakra and the Avatar state. The process now came as easily as the others and he emerged from his tent fully in the Avatar state. Without noticeable wind disturbance or airbending on his part, Aang began to hover and rise steadily. Just for a moment, he had reached flight – until Azula struck him down with lightning.
It is unclear if Aang would have actually retained power at this time. The last air Master went smoother, but it fulfilled all the conditions for it. If Azula hadn’t shot him down, Aang could have become the first confirmed airbender able to fly in a thousand years – long before Zaheer even began studying with Guru Laghima in the Legend of Korra.
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