History Of Firewalking


An ancient practice, firewalking is considered a wonderful example of the mind-body connection at work and a means of demonstrating that we do have control over the process. Firewalking has apparently been practiced for centuries by shamans, priests and ordinary folk as a religious ritual and as a healing ceremony.

Since prerecorded history, cultures all over the world have practiced the ancient art of firewalking and fire dancing rituals – yet no one seems to know just how old firewalking is or where it began. The earliest known reference to firewalking dates to 1200 B.C. The oldest recorded firewalk was over 4000 years ago in India. Two Brahmin priests were competing to see who could walk further, and this feat was written down in the historical records of that time.
Romans were exempted from paying taxes if they could demonstrate their ability to walk on fire without burning. Kung Bushmen in Africa used fire dance as a powerful healing ritual for their tribe. Their ceremony not only included firewalking, but also rolling on the fire. In Bali, fire dancing is the coming of age ritual for seven-year-old girls. The Greek Anastenarides danced on hot coals for hours to honor Saint Constantine and Saint Helen. The Kahunas of Hawaii let molten lava harden just enough to hold their weight before walking on it.

Fire immunity and firewalking rituals have been practiced in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burma, China, Egypt, Fiji, Greece, Haiti, Hawaii, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, Trinidad, and South Africa.

There is even reference to firewalking in the Bible:

“Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned?”
Proverbs 6:28


“When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned”
Isaiah 43:2

So what do all these ancient people and cultures know that we don’t? They have turned their reverence of fire into ceremonies and rituals to enhance their well-being and communities, understanding that the benefits of firewalking clearly outweigh the risks.



Born as a brainchild of Tolly Burkan in 1977, the global firewalking movement is celebrating its 31-year anniversary. Up until 1977, firewalking was very obscure and mysterious; In 1977 a radical shift happened in firewalking’s evolution when Scientific American printed an article that essentially offered the reading public a “how to” guide for firewalking. No one knows how many readers decided to actually try the “experiment” at home, but there were no unusual media accounts of large numbers of people attempting this after the article was published.

It was also in 1977 that Tolly Burkan reports, that “I myself first firewalked.” Burkan was taught by a friend and was so transformed by the experience that he immediately wanted to share it with as many as possible. Burkan wondered why no one was teaching firewalking to the general public and felt it was a valuable service needing to be offered. Indeed, time has proven that Burkan was correct: teaching firewalking was a valuable service needing to be offered. For nearly seven years, Burkan was the only person on the planet teaching firewalking classes.

In 1978, Burkan began seriously researching firewalking, and discovered that there really was no definitive firewalking theory. Every published theory contradicted some other published theory. No one could agree on why firewalkers were not harmed by the glowing, red-hot embers.

Burkan also noticed that there were no accounts of other people, besides himself, ever offering classes in firewalking. It then seemed to Burkan that the best way to research firewalking was to persuade as many people as possible to firewalk, thereby accumulating a large group that could be observed and studied. Burkan took it upon himself to create such a group. It became his personal mission. No one before Burkan had ever embarked on a crusade to convince as many people as possible to step into firepits containing red-hot coals exceeding 1200° Fahrenheit.



Because Burkan had already been teaching human-potential seminars since 1973, and had written a best-selling book on self-awareness in 1974, he conceived the notion of employing firewalking as an exercise in personal growth. So – after initially teaching it only to his friends – in 1979, Burkan added it to some of his public seminars as a process for expanding awareness, overcoming fear, and removing limiting beliefs about ones’ self. When Burkan invented this concept, it was a new, risky, and unique idea; nevertheless, time has proven that firewalking is indeed a powerful technique that can accelerate a radical transformation in consciousness. People constantly say that it changes their lives forever.



Between 1977 and 1982, Burkan still taught firewalking but only on a limited scale. Then in 1982, Burkan became more aggressive in advertising his firewalking classes and began printing massive amounts of brochures, extensively advertising classes in firewalking. The response was immediate and overwhelming. The outcome was more and more people walking on fire.

Finally, in 1983, Burkan contacted the media and described his ultimate objective of creating a global movement in firewalking. Dismissing “fad” and “trend” whenever the media tried to trivialize what he was doing, Burkan needed a word to describe his vision. At that moment, Burkan knew this would become a “global firewalking movement.” He “knew that unlike passing fads and trends, firewalking would continue to pyramid year after year.”



In 1983, Tolly Burkan, the founding father of the global firewalking movement, taught Tony Robbins how to firewalk. Not only did Robbins immediately decide that he himself also wanted to teach firewalking classes, Robbins proved to be a master at generating additional publicity. By early 1984, Robbins’ firewalking classes were drawing hundreds of people. Targeting the celebrity market, suddenly many notables from Hollywood were walking on fire. This, of course, fueled even more media attention.



By the end of 1984, in addition to the three-hour firewalking classes Burkan was offering in Europe and America, Burkan had conceived and presented two seminars designed to train others to lead firewalking classes using his format of creating the firewalk as a metaphor for any challenge that stimulates fear. Thus, in learning to firewalk, people were also learning how to overcome limiting beliefs about themselves and how to overcome fear in all areas of their lives.

Up until 1984, prospective instructors learned to teach the firewalking seminar simply by modeling Burkan’s presentation over the course of several weeks, wherein he presented the class in various West Coast cities night after night. The first two instructor trainings Burkan did involved a caravan of vehicles driving from the western border of Canada to the western border of Mexico. The caravan was comprised of a rented motorhome and rented station wagons. Every night involved another city and another hotel. It was exhausting!

In 1985, Burkan realized a new system for teaching firewalking instructor classes. No longer would he take future instructors on long road trips, touring city after city. The new structure simplified the training process by keeping the training in one place, and doing firewalks every single day, sometimes twice a day, for one week. It was a plan that made the overall process less expensive – and more accessible – to larger numbers of people who felt drawn to teaching firewalk classes themselves.



During the early 1990’s, firewalking caught the attention of managers and corporations as a way to inspire creativity and empower visions of higher horizons in their employees. During the 1990s, separately and together, Burkan and his wife trained over 1,000 firewalking instructors. Though they are now divorced, his wife worked with him for many years, so her approach is similar to his and up until 2003, all instructors that his ex-wife certified through the Sundoor Foundation automatically received “F.I.R.E. Certification” from the Firewalking Institute of Research and Education, which Burkan established in the 1980’s.

During the 1990’s, some people who Burkan or his wife never certified thought that they could just go out and teach firewalking classes. The result of their inexperience was disastrous. Their attempts resulted in a number of people being hospitalized, and quite a bit of adverse publicity. Even though over three million people have now safely crossed the fire without injury, never forget that there is definitely an inherent risk in firewalking.

While Tolly Burkan was conducting firewalking classes on college campuses across America, Tony Robbins had started doing firewalks for U.S. corporations. However, as companies learned that Robbins was using the “Fear into Power” format developed by Burkan, many sought Burkan out directly; soon he was so busy that his life was a blur and consequently hastened his total physical collapse. For years, Burkan had been trying to live his life fully despite severe pain that had been plaguing him since 1975, the year that while simply walking across a street in a cross-walk, a car ran a red light, struck Burkan and sent him flying.

Twelve years later, in 1987, without any warning at all, the left side of Burkan’s body, including his face, suddenly became paralyzed. He had difficulty breathing and was rushed by ambulance to a hospital for emergency neck surgery. This turned out to be only the first of several major reconstructive surgeries on Burkan’s neck, which prevented him from teaching for quite a number of years.

Throughout the ages and across the globe people of various cultures and traditions have been walking on fire. They have walked in community and walked alone. They have walked in silence and walked in an explosion of drums and dance. In 2006, Burkan was contacted by the U.S. military to discuss adding firewalking to Basic Training. He realized then, firewalking had attained a level of credibility that was as “mainstream” as apple pie. Executives and politicians firewalk; doctors and lawyers firewalk; professional athletes, and ministers of many different faiths now firewalk. In fact, movers and shakers from all over the globe can be counted among the ranks of modern-day firewalkers.



In spring of 2006, Tolly Burkan and Charles Horton were introduced and quickly became good friends. Charles being a very successful business owner and entrepreneur that twice has been listed on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest growing, privately held companies in America, had a vision and burning desire to take firewalking to new heights. As soon as these two forces of firewalking and entrepreneurship came together, Charles began telling Tolly about his vision. “F.I.R.E. Certified Master Firewalk Instructors in every corner of the world with thousands of instructors teaching this empowerment ritual.”
Tolly listened closely knowing Charles as a savvy and successful owner of several companies. They both knew in their hearts that these initial discussions could open up possibilities and lead to something great. Besides being a successful businessman, Charles is also a top rated public speaker that has been conducting corporate seminars for over 15 years. All the ingredients for a mutually successful venture were on the table. It wasn’t long before those ingredients gave way to a carefully laid plan. Both men knew something big was about to happen and suddenly possibilities were everywhere.
Over the next few months Charles and Tolly began working together and created a series of strategies that would take the world of firewalking to the next level. As this went on Charles and Tolly reworked and refined these strategies to a solid business plan and began mapping out a clear path for the future of the firewalking industry. Charles Horton’s vision and incessant desire to create a worldwide network of F.I.R.E. Master trainers was quickly taking shape.
During this time Charles also was working toward his Master Firewalk Instructor Certification. After much laborious effort Charles finally became a Master Instructor. Now as Master Instructor, Charles began to put his vision into motion. He and Tolly spent countless days and nights working together as a team. Although they didn’t always see eye to eye on every aspect of their plan, they brought the better of the two worlds together. The magic of the firewalk and the discipline of rock solid business leadership came together. What was once only an idea was now beginning to gel and take shape in the form of a worldwide firewalking certification network. In April of 2008, Tolly and Charles agreed that the international hub of the firewalking movement needed to have a central location close to the international airport for easy accessibility. They decided that the new location would be in Dallas, Texas. At present, Charles Horton’s estate (complete with a state of the art 2000 sq. ft seminar room) in Dallas, Texas serves as the official home of the new international firewalking movement.
Horton and Burkan continue to beat the drum of the two worlds they brought together. In this age of technology, post cards and letters have been replaced with video teleconferencing and the power of the Internet. Charles’ and Tolly’s vision of the future of firewalking have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. They predict that there will be F.I.R.E. certified masters in every country in the world by 2010 and they are well on their way.
Since Tolly Burkan created the world’s first firewalking class in 1977, more than three million people have walked on glowing coals without harm. Never before in history has firewalking been practiced so often and by so many.



The practice of walking barefoot over beds of red-hot coals has evolved into a powerful tool for self-realization and empowerment. From its humble beginning 31 years ago, when Burkan first realized that firewalking could be used as a technique for personal growth and began teaching it to others, the firewalking movement has grown to the point that even the President of the United States has sought the experience. Firewalking today is known as a tool for personal empowerment, touching a new culture from small spiritual groups to corporate conferences.

The value of firewalking is readily apparent by the huge number of multi-national corporations that retain certified firewalking instructors to work with their personnel. Companies are beginning to see the value in using the firewalk to empower their employees. The list includes companies such as Microsoft, Met-Life, American Express, RE/MAX International, Coca-Cola, and many other corporate giants. The firewalk allows people to experience a source of energy which helps them to reach beyond their limiting beliefs. Breaking through one’s perceived boundaries frees an incredible amount of creative energy, allowing people to redefine themselves as people to whom the impossible becomes achievable. Firewalk classes have been featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, in medical magazines and hundreds of newspapers worldwide.

Information referenced from the Firewalking Institute of Research and Education

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