As could be expected, there has been a considerable “buzz” generated by the Firewalking Video which was posted here at the Crossroads earlier. A number of comments were left and some emails sent which asked a couple of questions and expressed a lot of curiosity to understand firewalking better, and learn how I became involved in this. As a result, I have decided to post this follow-up blog to answer some of these questions.
How did you become a Motivational Trainer and Firewalk Instructor?
It kind of started by accident, to be honest. In the spring of 2004 I went to an event in Georgia, and while I was there I took a “firewalking workshop.” I had no idea what it was…I thought we were just going to build a bonfire and dance around it like the Indians did! It was not until after the workshop started I realized you don’t walk around the fire, you walk ON the fire! I was a little scared, but at the same time I was curious to try it. WOW! All I can say is that it was a powerful experience. I decided to start attending more firewalks, and started firewalking every month, sometimes twice a month…and also helping out as an firewalk assistant, helping to teach the workshop and/or tend to the fire.
This led me to decide that I wanted to become a Certified Firewalk Instructor, so I sought out the man who is considered to be the “Father of Firewalking” here in the United States – Mr. Tolly Burkan, who lives in California. Tolly is the founder and CEO of the Firewalking Institute for Research and Education (F.I.R.E.) and has been teaching firewalking and training instructors for over twenty years. People have come from all over the world to study with Tolly and receive their certification from F.I.R.E. Even Tony Robbins, the famous infomercial guy who does motivational training workshops, studied firewalking under Tolly. The majority of Firewalk Instructors in the world today were either trained by Tolly himself, or by a F.I.R.E. certified Master Trainer, who is certified to train instructors.
Tolly informed me that in all these years, he had never trained a Deaf person, and thus I would be the first Deaf F.I.R.E. Certified Firewalk Instructor and Motivational Trainer in the world. He invited me to come out to his home in California and participate in an instructor training workshop…free of charge! This really shocked me, and I am very thankful to Tolly for such generosity, as his workshops and certification training normally cost thousands of dollars.
So in early December of 2004 I traveled to California and took the intensive 4 day training needed to become an instructor. Four days might not seem like much, but those were twelve hour days, starting at 9:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. By the time the training was over I was exhausted, but being handed my certificate by Tolly made it all worthwhile!
Ocean at the training in California, with her interpreters Andres & Charlie
How long does a firewalking workshop require?
Generally a firewalking workshop takes at least three to four hours, and better to plan for around four to five hours. In the Hearing Community, firewalks tend to be done at night, in order to get the full visual impact of the burning wood coals of the firebed. However, I realize that this can be a problem for Deaf individuals, who need to rely on vision for communication and thus would have problems with the darkness, so Deaf workshops can and have been done earlier in the day…or arranged in such a way that there is plenty of light around.
The basic format of the workshop would be something like this – First there is the introduction, which can include showing photos, video clips, etc. Then there’s a question and answer period. After that, everyone goes outside to help build and/or light the fire for the firewalk. Then while the firetenders stay outside and watch and take care of the fire, the workshop participants go back inside, where everyone is taught about walking the fire…how to do it properly and the lessons learned from such. (If it’s a nice day, with a small group, it’s possible to just sit outside near the fire for this). This lesson takes between one and one and half hours…I would say around 75 minutes. Then everyone goes back outside to the fire again. It generally takes around 1.5 hours for the fire to burn down enough to rake the coals and prepare the firebed so that everyone can walk…this is why the firewalking lecture cannot be more than 1.5 hours because people need to head back out to the fire to get ready to start firewalking. With the help of the firetenders, pthe firebed is prepared. Generally the instructor or an experienced firewalker will do the first walk. When I do my firewalks, I like to stand at the end of the firebed and then people who want to walk can come up and do so…and when they walk the fire I am there at the end to give them a congratulatory hug! How long the firewalking itself takes depends on how many people participate…generally firewalks last for about 30 – 45 minutes, maybe a bit longer…but usually the fire tends to have pretty much cooled off after an hour.
Many instructors (including myself) often customize such workshops to include more activities or whatever…so they can basically range in length from a couple of hours to all day or even an entire weekend. It really depends upon the group or the instructor and what is desired or planned.
Is it possible to do a Motivational Training Workshop without a firewalk?
Yes, workshops can be done without the firewalk, I have done such workshops myself. An example is the workshop I did for the Rhode Island Association of the Deaf State Conference. The participants had the opportunity to see the firewalking video, and then we participated in three activities, which included snapping the arrow, breaking wood boards, and walking on broken glass. These are all activities that are used for teaching the various lessons of empowerment and motivation. Snapping the arrow teaches the lesson of pushing past your own self-imposed limitations that prevent you from achieving your goals. Breaking wood boards teaches the lesson of breaking the barriers that prevent you from achieving your goals. Walking on broken glass teaches the lesson of focusing on what you are doing and paying attention to what is happening, so you can successfully accomplish your goals.
These workshops are actually easier to set up, because they don’t involve all the arrangements needed for building and maintaining the fire required for a firewalk.. But they can still teach many of the same lessons that are used during a firewalking workshop – the concept of “PAY ATTENTION, EXPECT THE BEST, AND GO FOR IT!” You still have to learn to face your fears and accept the challenges.
Do you have any special memories from your firewalks?
All of the firewalks I have taught or participated in are special in their very own way, and I have good memories of each of them. I remember the very first firewalk I did with Fire Iris, and what an awesome experience that was. I remember when at the very last minute, a guy named Jim – whom I had just met at my favorite bar in North Carolina – put together a special firewalk to raise money for Katrina. I didn’t think anyone would come because we had only three days to plan it, but we ended up having over fifty people show up, and raised around $1500. I remember all the great people I met at the training workshop in California, and all the great people I have met since all over the country.
I do have a few special memories – I recall when I was doing a workshop for a State Association for the Deaf conference, and when I walked into the room, I noticed many of the participants were older – Deaf Senior Citizens. I thought “Ohhhh geez, these folks are not going to want to do these activities!” But they all surprised me, and I was really impressed with how they went ahead and did it – breaking the wood boards, snapping the arrows, etc. I demonstrated the glass walking, and then asked for any volunteers. This Deaf man raised his hand…he had to be around 75 years old! I told him to come on up and show us young folks how it’s done… and he immediately pulled off his shoes and socks and came right up and walked over the broken glass without any problems. Afterwards he had the biggest grin on his face, and he was sooooo excited! Later at the banquet that night I noticed he was telling all his friends about it and he was quite proud of himself…and he should be!
At another workshop I did for a Deaf agency, we had a Deaf-Blind participant, and she was just really great… participated in all the activities, and then when it was time to do the firewalk, she just put her hands on my shoulders and followed me right over those hot coals. To the best of my knowledge, she was the first Deaf-Blind person to ever walk the fire. That was a really great experience.
I enjoy them all…and I think I get as much if not more pleasure and satisfaction from the workshops as the participants do. It is good to see how people bond together and work together to face the challenges and empower themselves. A friend told me how it reminded her of the Outward Bound experience, where one goes into the wilderness with a group and faces various challenges. Another person told me how she felt it was a little like being on the “Survivor” reality TV show. (Interestingly, the Survivor show has used firewalking in its program). I think these are interesting comparisons, and pretty accurate also.
I especially love it when I have Deaf participants, because it makes me proud to be Deaf – to show that we as Deaf people CAN do anything… even walk on fire!