The ability to wire explosives would turn one sergeant’s injury from a cottage industry to mainstream business, with just a little bit of inspiration and a lot of hard work. 

SFC Brent Verdialez was a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant with the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. He’d been in the Army for 16 years and with Special Forces for most of that time. 

Growing up in Fresno, California, he was interested in different types of fighting. He learned boxing and Wing Chun, a style of Kung Fu. Later, he began training in a lesser-known fighting style known as Sanda, which was formerly known as Sanshou or Chinese Kick Boxing and is a blend of traditional Kung Fu and modern fighting techniques. (The Chinese military uses a variation of it, called Junshi Sanda to train its own Special Operations Forces in unarmed combat techniques.)

Verdialez and many of his fellow Green Berets would train in a variety of martial arts to keep themselves to a sharp edge both physically and mentally. However, when he suffered what he believed to be a minor injury during combatives training, everything changed for him. 

Verdialez broke his ulnar, the long forearm bone that runs from the elbow to the hand on the medial side of the arm. In an interview with Army Times, Verdialez said that the injury was so severe that he couldn’t even turn a doorknob. 

With his injury lingering, he used his Special Forces training (and his desire to find a way to still get training time in) to build a machine, which combined ancient Chinese methods with modern technology, for fighters of all levels to train with.  

Recalling his training with wooden sparring dummies called Mu Ren Zhuang, or “wooden man post,” which have existed for centuries in Shaolin temples and were made popular with the martial arts films of Bruce Lee, Verdialez was inspired to make his own, modernized version of them. 

Despite not having a computer programming background, he bought books on coding and programming. He was soon testing different configurations at his dining room table at night while his family was asleep.

He made his own wooden stand, connected all of the pieces together, and with a motor and a pool noodle, began testing his device, constantly adjusting the angles, and speed. He eventually figured out a way to make the device swivel, as an actual fighter would. His fighting dummy got faster with better motors and he built a prototype with one, then two, and finally four arms. He finished his robot prototype in August of last year. 

After leaving the Army late last year, he took his plans to a Filipino manufacturer. They gradually worked together on the project until they had a good 3D-printed prototype. They then tested his creation with some professional Mixed Martial Arts fighters.

Verdialez’s innovative RXT-1 sparring robot has four foam arms, a head target, and a torso pad option. While not designed to replace a human sparring partner, it will help when fighters train on their own. It will improve a fighter’s reaction time, mental processing speed, and hand-eye coordination.

The robotic sparring partner will offer three training modes: 

  • Practice: The robot will strike at the user with one arm at a time, every two seconds.
  • Spar: In the sparring mode, fighters set the intensity and attack level and then engage with randomized strikes from a sparring partner that will never get tired.
  • Combinations: It trains users in over 100 strike combinations. Advanced fighters can program their own combinations as well.

“It’s really good for people who’ve never been in a fight before,” Verdialez said. “There’s nothing else like it on the market that induces your stress levels like you’re in a fight.”

Verdialez is currently in talks with contractors that provide training to the military and which could incorporate his robot trainer. He sees it as a good way for new recruits to get extra training time in combatives.

“When I started developing the RXT-1, I noticed a void in technology in the combat sports industry,” Verdialez said in an interview with Digital Trends. ‘The equipment they are currently using is archaic and has been used for thousands of years. They are good for developing power and speed, but nothing was made to simulate an actual fighter or a striking coach. I wanted to develop both in one system,” he added.

RXT-1 can already be pre-ordered and will begin shipping in February 2021. Prices range from $699 to $899.