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I Walked on Fire
(and lived to tell about it)

by Ron Kurtus (revised 14 January 2014)

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins gained his fame in the mid 1990s through his "Fire Walking Seminar" that showed people how they could overcome their fears, and then demonstrated that fact by getting them to walk barefooted across a bed of red-hot coals. I went to one of his seminars, walked on fire, and lived through the experience.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

How I learned about fire walk

A number of years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles but visiting my parents in Milwaukee, I saw a report on the NBC Evening News about people walking on fire. Tom Brokaw started the report with, "Only in California..." He went on to show people at a seminar walking on hot coals in their bare feet.

I thought, "Boy, isn't that nuts?"

Met some fire walkers

On my flight back home to Los Angeles, I met a couple who were going to Hawaii to go sky diving. They said they had recently walked on fire, and now they wanted to try something else more challenging.

When I told them I had seen something about the fire walk on television, they said I should try it myself. "Try it. You'll like it," they encouraged.

Then they gave me the telephone number of a fellow named Tony Robbins, who was running these Fire Walk Seminars.

Things fell into place

When I got home, I called the number. A woman told me that they would be having their last fire walk that Friday, before going on the road. It would be in Santa Monica, just a few miles from where I lived. If I wasn't satisfied (or too severely burned) I could get my money back.

Isn't it amazing how some things just fall into place, like they were meant to happen? That is what they call synchronicity.

(Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe meaningful coincidences that conventional notions of chance cannot explain. A good book on the subject is Synchronicity by Combs and Holland, Paragon House, 1990.)

So, I signed up.

The Fire Walk Seminar

The Fire Walk Seminar consisted of the Friday night fire walk and then two days of material on the neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) method of personal improvement.

NLP is a set of tools for modeling human excellence, with special emphasis on patterns of communication. It was created by Richard Bandler in the 1970s. A classic text on NLP is Influencing with Integrity by Genie Laborde, Syntony Publishing, 1984.

The seminar leader, Tony Robbins, emphasized that the seminar was not about walking on fire. Rather, it was a metaphor for overcoming your fears and for improving yourself.

Could see them preparing hot coals

While Robbins was running us through various confidence-building exercises, his crew was building a huge bonfire within our view outside. I started to have second thoughts.

Had to sign form with lawyer

At midnight, after signing release forms with his lawyer, in case we became seriously burned (how's that for a confidence builder?), we lined up outside. There was a path 6 feet wide and 20 feet long of glowing, red-hot embers.

I'm not that foolish

No way was I going to be so foolish to walk across those babies!

But somehow I found myself in the line, and soon it was my turn. Robbins told me to concentrate on something cool. He told me to chant "Cool moss" over and over. "And don't look down!"

I felt like a champion

So I started walking across those hot embers. I barely felt a cinder. Then as I got to the end, I yelled out in celebration. That was part of the ceremony.

And I felt like a champion. I had overcome a scary challenge and achieved a difficult goal. Hey, I was a champion!

How is it possible?

There were many scientific studies about how people can walk on glowing cinders without getting their feet burned. The answer finally came out that it wasn't mind-over-matter as Robbins and others had claimed. It also wasn't that fear caused the soles of your feet to sweat, thus protecting you, as the newspapers reported.

Rather, the answer could be explained by simple physics. The wood used had a very low rate of heat exchange, such that the embers were red hot on the inside but relatively cool on the surface. As you walked across the coals, you were never on a cinder long enough for the heat to burn your feet.

If a material that had a higher rate of heat exchange, such as coal or aluminum, you would be severely burned.

Lessons from this story

Fire walking is one of many ways people can overcome fears. There are seminars and camps where people skydive, climb mountains, and walk among snakes. What is important is the message presented along with the challenge.

Take a chance to improve yourself

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


Firewalking - Wikipedia

How Firewalking Works -

A Self-Improvement Quest That Led to Burned Feet - NY Times

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