What is firewalking?

by Edward Siceloff


Firewalking has existed for thousands of years as a spiritual practice that aims to strengthen the mind-body connection of an individual. It demonstrates that people have control over their own bodies, including the tolerance of pain and the ability to transform bodily limitations by tapping into spiritual powers. Ancient civilizations have practiced firewalking as a religious ritual and healing ceremony by priests, shamans, and ordinary people. In fact, scholars estimate that people have practiced this ancient art since before mankind could record historical events; however, no conclusive evidence points to where and when firewalking originated.

The earliest known record of firewalking occurred over four thousand years ago in present-day India, where two Brahmin priests competed to see who could walk furthest on a bed of coals. The Ancient Romans rewarded citizens with a tax exemption if they could demonstrate their ability to transcend pain by walking on fire without incurring burns. In Africa, the Kung Bushmen tribe danced around a fire as a powerful healing rite, a ceremony that also included rolling on the fire. In addition, families celebrate the coming of age for their seven-year-old daughters in Bali, Indonesia. The Kahunas in Hawaii allow molten lava to harden enough to old their body weight before walking over it. Other countries have practiced fire immunity and firewalking rituals, including Brazil, Burma, China, Egypt, Bulgaria, Australia, Fiji, Hawaii, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, India, Haiti, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, Trinidad, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Tibet.

The global firewalking movement, as influenced by Tolly Burkan, emerged in 1977. Before the birth of this trend, firewalking was seen as an obscure and mysterious ritual up until a popular magazine called “Scientific American” had printed a “how-to” article that described the firewalking process. Tolly Burkan reported trying the firewalking experiment, and instantly shared it with as many people who would listen to his inner-transformation. In fact, Burkan attributed this experience as his motivation to offer firewalking as a valuable service to the general public. Burkan’s firewalking research revealed that no other spiritual practitioner could agree on why people remained unharmed when they walked over red-hot embers. Inspired by this research, Burkan exclusively offered his firewalking classes for the next seven years until others came to the forefront.

In 1979, Tolly Burkan convinced his followers to use firewalking as a form of exercise for personal growth. Burkan had written a best-selling book and conducted dozens of self-help seminars since 1973; therefore, his followers were less reluctant to accept firewalking into their own personal regime. In fact, Burkan added firewalking to his public seminars as an avenue towards expanding self-awareness, overcoming fear, and eradicating limiting beliefs. Burkan took a risk in introducing firewalking for this very purpose; however, it slowly proved its effectiveness as a time-tested treatment that changes lives forever.

Burkan continued to teach firewalking to his students on a limited scale until 1982, when he started to advertise his firewalking courses aggressively. The masses overwhelmingly responded to his firewalking brochures, insomuch that it became sensational in the media. In 1983, Burkan contacted several media outlets to share his vision of a global firewalking movement that would transform the world into a better, more peaceful place for everybody. Unfortunately, mass media outlets rejected his “vision” as a trendy fad that people would soon forget after time lapsed. Bulkan also met and taught Tony Robbins, a modern self-help guru, how to firewalk in 1983. The young, enthusiastic Tony Robbins loved firewalking so much that he promoted and turned the exercise into an international sensation, fulfilling the dream that Bulkan envisioned for over a half decade. Tony Robbins’ targeted the celebrity market, which suddenly converted many public acclaim figures to the art of firewalking.

Burkan’s firewalking classes expanded to Europe, and soon grew to include firewalking instructor courses in 1984. In 1985, Burkan refined his firewalking instructor courses that would no longer require prospective students to accompany him on road tours. In fact, the new system simplified the training process by keeping all of the prospective students in one place, where they would perform multiple firewalking sessions every day for one week. Not only did this decrease the stress on both the trainers and students, it saved prospective students thousands of dollars. This made the firewalking instructor courses more accessible to people who felt drawn to teaching the fine art of firewalking.

Corporations and small business owners started to incorporate firewalking sessions into their management training programs as a means of inspiring creativity and visions in their employees. During the 1990s, Burkan trained over one thousand firewalking instructors who helped empower corporate managers to overcome their limitations. Burkan also had competition from phoneys who never received his firewalking instructor certification. In fact, these imposters decided to teach their own firewalking courses, which ended in disaster for those who participated. As a result, people became leery of participating in firewalking exercises due to the negative media coverage of these tragic events that ended in serious injury.

Tony Robbins developed his role as a prominent firewalking instructor in the corporate sector, while Tolly Burkan conducted firewalking courses on college campuses across the United States. However, many corporations sought out Burkan directly after discovering that Tony Robbins formatted his courses after Burkan’s “Fear Into Power” self-development program. Unfortunately, this hastened Burkan’s physical deterioration that started in 1975, when a car struck him in a cross-walk. In 1987, Burkan’s career was stunted, when his body suddenly became paralyzed, requiring reconstructive surgery on his neck. However, his legacy still continued to live through Tony Robbins, Charles Horton, and other self-help gurus who taught inner-transformation by walking on a bed of coal. In 2006, the United States military contacted Burkan directly to help design a firewalking course for Basic Training, a feat that Tolly realized gained the exercise credibility. Today, people from all over the world obtain F.I.R.E. certification to help others reach their own goals and aspirations in life through the fine art of firewalking.