Fire Walking is an old school way of showing devotion or of attaining knowledge of self. It is a custom that has been found in such varied places as India, Spain, Hawaii (with lava), The Kalahari Desert, Bulgaria and Fiji. Physicists has studied the phenomenon since the 1930s and have concluded that the normal walk can easily be explained by the fact that coal has a very low heat capacity and that water on the feet or sweat creates a steam layer which insulates the feet from the heat. Also, the high heat conduction ability of the body cools the feet and injuries are avoided. This doesn't explain how some firewalkers stand in the middle of the coals at plus 1000 degrees for like 40 seconds though. Studies on fire walking have shown that the coals do lose heat rapidly and that after each person walks it does get cooler and cooler however these studies always fail to examine the extreme fire walking of people in places like the Khalahari who like eat fire and play checkers with the coals or the shamans in Hawaii who don't use special wood and perfect conditions but walk over lava from a spitting volcano.

Japanese Yamabushi practitioners often practice fire walking at festival celebrations.

The Yamabushi are a syncretic development of Shingon and Tendai Buddhist Mikkyo together with Pure Land and Shinto elements. From the 1200s they were ascetics who lived and practised in the mountains. Now they are often salarymen who do goma instead of playing golf. It is much much cheaper. Green fees are outrageous in Japan. dannye would not like it.

The Yamabushi practices tend to centre on Fudo Myo-o (Immovable Sovereign of Radiance) an important figure in Japanese Mikkyo or Vajrayana. Thin slips of wood that have written on them things people wish weren't going on for them are thrown into a fire. This makes everybody feel better because the fire is really big and a lot of fun. If this is done at a festival, everyone also feels better because there is a lot of saké. Yamabushi chant the mantra of Fudo Myo-o and walk on the coals.

Western tourists often want to do this too so the Yamabushi let them. Why not? It's easy. Just keep a regular pace. Don't stop. See? You're on the other side now! Yay! Have some saké!


Sure, alex.tan. "Come fire walk with me!" Have some saké.

Arghh... I know the physics behind this - but the name of the phenomenon eludes me. Maybe I've got anomic aphasia ... can somebody actually studying physics now tell me the name of this?

Anyway, contrary to what Protector of Mankind said above, it's not to do with heat capacity or thermal conductivity of coals or human flesh. The truth is that small droplets of water on the feet of the fire walkers, either from damp grass or their sweat, flash to steam at the outside of the droplets on the red hot surface, leaving a micro- layer of steam between the water and the heat. This thin layer of steam acts as a good insulator, slowing down heat transfer so that the water does not burn off for quite a while - many seconds.

It's the same thing as when you have a really hot frying pan and you drop a few drops of water on them. If the pan is hot enough, the drops of water will curl up into tiny balls - you'll be able to play with them by blowing them around the pan for a while. On the other hand, if the pan is not quite hot enough, the water does not flash into steam on contact and instead spreads over the surface of the pan and evaporates much faster. The surface in contact with the liquid must be much hotter than the liquid's boiling point.

Seemingly paradoxical but true. The thing is though, that if you are too confident about fire walking, you won't sweat ... and without that layer of water (or some handy damp grass), your feet are toast. So always respect the heat.


I learnt this secret eight years ago from a Physics textbook of mine. Still have not yet tried fire walking myself.

Anyone want to fire walk with me?

Sensei - sure. when, where?

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