Ty Lee was first introduced in Season 2 of Avatar: The Last Airbender as an acrobatic fighter with a bubbly personality and a passion for reading people’s auras. In other words, she's not your typical Fire Nation citizen. While the show does a good job explaining this character's backstory, we can't help but wonder how she fits in with glum and grouchy Fire folks like Mai, Azula, and Zuko.
With that in mind, an intriguing new Avatar theory suggests that Ty Lee is so different because she's actually an airbender (or at least has some airbender ancestors). It may sound ridiculous — especially when you consider the show's title — but it kind of works. Let's dive in.
Reddit user mb88000 shared a theory (originally posted in art form by Airbendertylee) highlighting several reasons why Ty Lee may be a secret airbender. The gist of it is that Ty Lee’s characteristics and fighting style are reminiscent of the Air Nomads. She also has similar facial features from Aang that make her stand out in the Fire Nation but would look right at home among the Air Nomads.
Considering the airbenders' ability to fly — and their flying bison companions — it’s possible a number of them traveled throughout the four nations. Perhaps some may have settled elsewhere and even had families with citizens of the Fire Nation.
It’s also possible the Air Nomads sent their children away on the flying bison as soon as they were attacked by the Fire Nation. This would have ensured their safety, though they would have also grown up elsewhere. That said, perhaps Ty Lee is a direct descendant of an airbender who hasn't yet harnessed her full powers. She might not even realize she has airbending powers.
When referencing Ty Lee’s combat skills, the theory also points out that her fighting style and aerial leaps may be the product of her ability to control the air around her. We know she has been able to soar from tree to tree, which is pretty unusual in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
What’s more, the monks at the Southern Air Temple taught their students how to fight without causing physical harm. Ty Lee tends to fight in ways that don’t cause permanent, instead hitting specific pressure points to temporarily paralyze her foes. She also dodges attacks like Avatar Aang.
The Inverse Analysis — Of course, Ty Lee’s seemingly weightless combat style could be a testament to her time as a member of the Fire Nation circus. She was, after all, a highly skilled acrobatics performer skilled in aerial stunts. However, we know that Avatar: The Last Airbender doesn’t offer much in the way of Ty Lee’s history outside the Fire Nation, simply revealing that she chose this unusual career path as a way to stand apart from her many sisters.
Even if she's not an airbender herself, it’s possible Ty Lee is a descendant of an Air Nomad. Perhaps her parents were refugees who fled the Southern Air Temple and wound up in the Fire Nation. All Air Nomads were also airbenders, but it's possible Ty Lee might be a non-bending descendant, especially if only one of her parents was an airbender.
Either way, she definitely didn't get any training or spiritual guidance as a kid, and if this theory is true, her parents would have hidden their identities to survive in the Fire Nation. We'll probably never know if any of this is true, but it's definitely something to consider during your next Avatar rewatch.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is currently available to stream on Netflix.