21 Injured After Walking Across Hot Coals at Tony Robbins Seminar

Ever seen people walk across hot coals? They can do it because coal is a poor conductor of heat and, if you walk fast enough, you should be ok. Richard Wiseman offers a brief explanation here:

New age-y motivational speaker Tony Robbins uses the demonstration in many of his seminars. On Thursday night, at an event attended by 6,000 people, 21 of them were injured after they tried to walk across coals that were between 1,200-2,000 degrees:

Jonathan Correll, 25, decided to check out what was going on when “I heard wails of pain, screams of agony.” He said one young woman appeared to be in so much pain “it was horrific.”

“It was people seriously hurting, like they were being tortured,” he said. “First one person, then a couple minutes later another one, and there was just a line of people walking on that fire. It was just bizarre, man.”

Kim, a 22-year-old who didn’t want her last name used because she is still attending the event, said her two friends who did the walk seemed fine at first, but their feet started to blister about 10 minutes later. She said other people had similar problems, and a number of them were soaking their feet in a fountain at the park.

“It seemed abnormal that so many got hurt,” she said, adding that many attendees Friday complained about blisters, and a woman sitting near her had both feet completely bandaged.

You would think some of them would’ve learned their lesson after the first screams…

The amazing thing is that the people who made it across without injuring themselves probably believe it’s their mindset that got them through it.

It’s not. It’s physics.

It’s kind of like lying on a bed of nails. You can convince yourself that if you concentrate enough, you won’t get injured, but you’re better off knowing how the force is applied across your body.

(via Token Skeptic)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    The mindset idea is important because you’re managing to convince yourself to do something you otherwise wouldn’t consider. That’s can be a positive experience. But rationally, maybe there’s a reason not to run barefoot across hot coals! Does Robbins claim that the “power of the mind” is what keeps your feet from burning (as I know shamans have done for millennia), or only that the “power of the mind” allows you to overcome your natural fear of doing something?

    (You have to wonder how this guy is able to get liability insurance for his performances. While most people can run across coals without significant injury- assuming the coal bed has been properly prepared- some will linger just a little too long. Run enough people through, there are always going to be some injuries. People have even died. It’s just statistics.)

  • Heidi

    So 20 people get injured doing it, and person 21 still thinks it’s a good idea??

    • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

       

      her two friends who did the walk seemed fine at first, but their feet started to blister about 10 minutes later.

      The “horrific screams” weren’t happening as, or immediately after, people walked across the coals, and then more people kept going even though the people before them were clearly in pain.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

    Normally over 20 people can do it without any injury at all.  This is the first report I’ve seen that refers to a “line of people” and that may be an important clue.  I believe the usual way is for each person to go over the coals in turn, one at a time, with the next person waiting until you’re off the coals before he begins his walk into self-actualized spiritual immortality.

    It sounds possible that they tried to form a line walking over the coals.  If the line got slowed down, you can easily imagine people having to go slowly or even stop on the coals (well, not “having to,” but it’s probably as hard for these people to think of stepping off to the side before they get burnt as it is for the hero in the movie to run sideways instead of trying to outrun the train on the tracks.  They’re focused intently on reaching the end of the walk.)

    You’d think these people would have enough experience not to let clients do that, but if you believe that it’s your magical mindset that is keeping fire from burning flesh, it’s probably hard to bring up the practical considerations.

    But remember, there’s no harm in woo. And, hey, these people learned a different lesson than firewalking is generally supposed to teach, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable lesson.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      That’s a good hypothesis.  My other thought was insufficiently damp feet at the start, but I’m not sure how important that is.  I’ve heard they often have wet grass to stand in before you start, but I assume that would steam off pretty quickly.

      • Nkendall

        Generally it is assumed that it comes down to the Leidenfrost Effect, which can be found here: 
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liedenfrost_effect

      • brianmacker

        Yes or wood with nails in it, or they did it on gravel and raked some hot gravel out for people to walk on. I like the line theory best.

    • Stev84

      Ash may also play a role. At the beginning the coals would be covered with a layer of ash. That insulates the first people walking over it, but at some point people have more contact with the coals.

      I’ve also read that the type of wood can play a role. Some woods hold or radiate heat better than others, as you can see when burning wood in fire places.

  • Phil Bellerive

    People paid money to learn that walking barefoot across 1200 degree hot coals would cause burns.  Hell, I ought to charge them money to come over so I can hold their hands over a hot burner on my stove – I’ll even offer a group discount!

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

    How many of the 6000 walked across the coals?  (The news report says they don’t know.)

    Maybe the coals were just hotter than usual, or prepared wrong, or people were encouraged to take it too slow.  Clearly the coal-preparers needed to think more positively.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-De-Fleuriot/611844223 Mike De Fleuriot

       No the coals were not hotter than usual, they were just coals, it’s their function to project heat.  What was missing is that people failed to understand this. The only people who learnt something from this, were the people who choose rightly not to walk across the coals. That is the real message, I think.

  • LesterBallard

    Made my day when I heard about this.

    • Sindigo

      I know it shouldn’t, but it made me smile. Burns to the soles of the feet are not fun but they may just be worth it if you learn the right lessons from the experience whether you’re a victim or a witness in this case.

      • LesterBallard

        Maybe they learned something. Then again, some of them might end up killing themselves in some sweat lodge.

        • Sindigo

          Years ago an acquaintance of mine regaled me with the story of a sweat lodge he took part in. About half way round one of the guys he was sitting next to, a big biker dude became disoriented and went to stand up. They tried to yank him back down but he fell forwards instead; onto the hot rocks. They were miles away from anywhere in the woods and it took them two hours to get him to a hospital. The burns took his tattoos off.

          I am never setting my seat in a sweat lodge.

  • fabuchachi

    It reminded me of a Mythbusters episode, they say it is more of a technique to do it right, but heck I won’t do it anyway.

    • Kodie

      It’s not that I might burn my feet, I just don’t see the point. On the one hand, it’s supposed to demonstrate mind over matter and conquering fear, but it’s just a demonstration. Second hand, because there’s a technique to it, there’s nothing really being demonstrated that can’t be demonstrated some other way. If you do something right, it can’t hurt you, but if you do it wrong, it can. That’s not conquering your fear, that’s learning the technique. I say put mind over matter on something that can’t really hurt you, like wearing a wool turtleneck with nothing underneath. If you’re allergic to wool, then brainstorm some other discomfort. These death-defying parlor tricks are dramatic and do something a wool turtleneck can’t, providing the drama that convinces people distracts them from understanding that it’s fooling them, and selling tape sets and seminars for Tony Robbins.

      There is definitely something to be learned by getting hurt when you do something the wrong way – that there’s a wrong way. I think people will be more fearful to take risks in their lives (I think what the seminar was supposed to teach) that won’t actually hurt by fearing that they’ll do it wrong. There’s no good reason to walk on hot coals. People who are living within their comfort zone and limits are not necessarily wrong for doing so, but there are other ways to convince them to take chances and become brave enough to do so without pulling these stunts.

  • https://me.yahoo.com/a/EktgFoMXhNI7omlLH6TBpvGQa9IH.UDDfUDI#0269b Chris

    I read one of Tony’s  books years ago—the only thing I remember is the thought exercise of “shrinking” negative ideas and “smashing” through them. As C Peterson noted, I’m not sure if Tony claims this just makes doing hard things easier, or if the thinking itself somehow changes reality.For what it’s worth, I suspect the former.

  • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

    I’ve been on a bed of nails, they had one at the Ontario Science Centre and Science North the last time I was there.  Had all these nifty charts and descriptions about force distribution on the body.

    Felt pretty neat too and with all those sharp points in your back it was actually kind of relaxing.  Hot coals though, no way, there isn’t much of anything that could ever get me to walk across that – I don’t care how many nifty charts and descriptions they got sitting next to it.  :D

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    This all could have been avoided if they’d watched the relevant episode of Mythbusters.

  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

    I’m pretty sure that there was a Penn & Teller’s Bullshit episode that talked about how stupid self-help is and that they specifically talked about how dumb walking across coals is.

    • Kodie

      I don’t dismiss self-help altogether, it’s just that a lot of it uses parlor tricks to engage people and take their money. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get advice for living a life that’s a little more daring and fulfilling than what you have, if you feel like you just don’t know how to turn it around. I also think there’s the part where it might seem a little boring to just hit this rationally – people want there to be spiritual components to it, expect there to be, and are appealed to because of it. There’s nothing especially magical to it, but I suppose rational empowerment programs just don’t have the pizazz people are looking for.

      • Sindigo

        I feel that if a self-help guru offered real advice that could genuinely help, like “do one thing better each day” or “read more, watch TV less” no-one would want to pay for the seminar.

        Like the weight-loss consultant who simply says “eat less, do more”, no-one listens because they already know the answer really and the truth isn’t what they’re looking for.

        • Kodie

          Well, more than that, people do make excuses and doubt themselves, and also get wrapped up in petty things and mis-estimate the size of their problems or obstacles. Self-help-type consumers tend to need an outlook that works for them, and there are many successful people who have tried one and believe it’s the only one that works since they either didn’t try the others or they didn’t fit their needs to be supported in their own way. Believe it or not, people have emotional reasons that they have to get out of the way before they can actually get to the practical simplicity of actually doing the thing that’s their goal. Moving themselves out of the way is how self-help or all therapy works or attempts to work. Some have to use tricks like walking over coals. Others use meditations and affirmations.

          Personally, I have a problem with an overwhelming at this point messy apartment. I’ve always been messy, and it tends to snowball out of control after some other problems. I have made a lot of progress this past week but not as much as I’d like. Instead of just doing it, like a normal person, I realized at the time I begin (months ago, in earnest), part of me feels traumatized and paralyzed. That’s not normal, but it is. Lots of people feel some sort of agony that keeps them from doing something most people just do, and figuring out what it is, or find “planning” to do something is not really doing it, but certain aspects are more emotionally satisfying as if actively conquering something, and realizing it’s just a distraction. Some people need the visualization though. Is it brain chemistry, past trauma, sometimes I’m like this and sometimes I’m not. It’s easy for someone to say I’m lazy, and I have to admit that I am, but what is my excuse, it’s my imagination. I feel something awful that’s more urgent to me than just not wanting to do what I have to do. I am in therapy, but I wouldn’t say my therapist is very helpful about most of it. It sounds shitty to not give her credit, but I feel only because I see a therapist am I on my own thinking what I really want to do, trying to do it, and noting how I feel when I try to do it and can’t has helped me more than the “exercise” sheets she gives me. I have more control over an imaginary feeling when I’m able to acknowledge it.

          I don’t have to walk across hot coals to believe in myself or steer the ship as it were, it’s just one way that people seem to think is a smart trick to demonstrate to oneself how strong or brave one really is, and, well, controlling the mind over the matter is figuring out what’s really the matter and why it’s larger in your head than it is in reality. Hot coals should be hot, and if you do it fast enough, they’re not as hot as you feared. It’s not really about saying wow, I climbed a mountain, it’s more like saying, it wasn’t really a mountain, was it. That’s rational, so I figured it out and working on it. I don’t like quotes, or “exercises” or affirmations or rewards, that stuff is just jazz for people who need it.

          • Kodie

            I should acknowledge a rather big difference between believing you have used the power in your own mind to limit how hot the coals feel to you, and approaching the coals as if they are really hot (scary) and getting over your fear to find out they aren’t that hot – if you move fast enough. Moving faster (a different problem) is probably a lesson best learned a different way.

            • Sindigo

              I’m sure you’re right when you say that there is more to it than I intimated. I’m lucky enough to have never really needed any sort of therapy (there’s still time) so I have next to no experience of it bar loving Frasier. I also know nothing about what you’re going through. I hope you find some answers soon though, if that’s what’s needed.

              What I do worry about though is the people who have the potential to be duped and exploited by the self-help/therapy sub-culture and in this case I mean therapy to include “holistic” therapies rather than psychotherapy which I have assumed you were referring to. 

              A while ago I was pretty immersed in complementary therapies. I did Reiki and such like and met a lot of people who were suffering from what I as a total layman (read: talking out of my ass) would have thought were diagnosable psychological conditions. I don’t really see many of those people any more but I often wonder if they got the help they needed rather than another worthless chakra balancing.

              I bring this up as though there always seemed to be quite a cross-over between the CAM people and the self-helpers, CAM was the closest experience I’ve had.

              Sorry, I’m a bit rambling tonight. I haven’t had much sleep and it’s late here. :)

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/GFZXBGMIS53HNM47SGDFRRP4P4 finneous

    And this one is going out to Tony Robbins tonight, here’s Three Dog Night, with Fireeater!

  • Shane Guilkey

    In sports news: Charles ‘The Missing Link’ Darwin struck out 21 times today

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    *smh*

  • Dan

    were the coals being stirred after each walk? if so, they could have been bringing the hot coals to the surface ,which would cause burning.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aaron-Scoggin/100000044792747 Aaron Scoggin

    The “technique” is that you have to let the coals burn for a while first. The ash on top insulates the hot coals, making a cool-ish layer on top that you can walk on. I’m guessing they either didn’t let them burn enough or stirred them up beforehand.

    source : Mythbusters xD

  • TGAP Dad

    My favorite is the woman who didn’t want her name used because she IS STILL AT THE EVENT. Once there is a glaring demonstration that you are being sold a load of hooey, you should just cut your losses and leave.
    “Here, walk across these hot coals!”
    “Okey-dokey”
    (Begins to walk)
    “Ouch! S**t! Ouch!”
    (Writhes in pain)
    “So what’s next on the agenda, Tony! Can’t wait!”

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

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