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Sean Bryan introduced a motion sensor activated obstacle at his Ninja gym last month

The obstacle got rave reviews from the Ninjas!

Diane Bryan

The sport of Ninja Warrior is always pushing the envelope. The obstacles get taller, bigger, harder, and crazier, while the athletes get stronger, faster, braver, and smarter. The obstacles have also showcased a whole lot of creativity lately… remember the daunting Ferris Wheel in Atlanta!?

Quantrell Colbert/NBC

How about the winner of the Obstacle Design Challenge — Seattle/Tacoma’s Barrel Roll?

Matthew Hayward/NBC

And we can’t forget about Spring Forward in Los Angeles!

Michael Becker/NBC

The creativity doesn’t stop there. We saw another new and incredibly unique obstacle on Instagram recently. It was challenging, fun, and motion-sensored(!!), so we had to find out more.

We should have known that Sean Bryan, Brian Kretsch, Kevin Carbone, Nick Kostreski, and Alex Krumland all had a hand in creating this crazy cool obstacle. Except for Nick, they all work at a Ninja gym called Traverse Fitness in Richmond, California. This massive Ninja gym just recently opened in a former tank factory with 50-foot ceilings, and they have plenty of room to get creative.

Check out the obstacle that debuted in their recent UNX competition.

Sean Bryan, co-owner of Traverse Fitness and 3-time National Finalist on American Ninja Warrior, was kind enough to give us all the details on how this obstacle came to be.

“About a year ago, as we were starting to build Traverse, the team was hanging out after hours and Alex Krumland was excitedly sharing a bunch of dream obstacles that we could create inside our huge warehouse. One idea was an homage to an obstacle from Kunoichi, the female-only version of Sasuke in Japan,” he said. “It sounded crazy, but he found a clip on YouTube to show me, and I was sold. The competitor had to push a button to release a punching bag hanging on a long zip-line, then complete a balance obstacle as the bag picked up speed. If they did it quick enough, they could jump onto the bag as it passed by and ride it across the water to the next obstacle.”

The obstacle that Alex showed Sean is at the 4:56 mark in the video below. A failure on the obstacle is shown first. Keep watching to see a successful completion.

According to Sean, “We initially tried ways to replicate this at our gym, but the Richmond, CA, planning commission was strangely unenthusiastic about us digging a moat in our residential area, so we started workshopping alternatives.”

Sean and his team soon realized what they absolutely loved about the Kunoichi obstacle. “The beauty of the original obstacle design was that it required the athlete to think one obstacle ahead, while still performing with focus on the current obstacle,” explained Sean.

They began to explore ways to replicate this variable, as opposed to the whole original obstacle. It was soon clear that releasing the red padded pipe, affectionately called “Red Fred”, would do the job. That was the easy part. The hard part was figuring out the logistics. The trial and error began…

Idea #1: A judge could release the pipe as soon as the athlete landed.

Problem: Human error could give an advantage or disadvantage to competitors.

Then the focus shifted to using electromagnets, and Sean said, “suddenly the idea of a completely automatic zip line release entered into the realm of possibility! At least the concept was simple enough, but the execution proved a bit more involved.”

Idea #2: Use pressure sensors to trigger the zip line release as soon as someone touched the landing pad.

Problem: They were not as aesthetically pleasing as they had hoped, and it would be rather expensive to cover the whole landing area.

Idea #3: Use the little laser beam that triggers the clock at ANW competitions.

Problem: In Sean’s words, “But where can you even buy one of those? This was getting a bit out of my league. I knew basic circuitry from my college years, but I hadn’t applied it much since then.”

But Idea #3 seemed promising. It was worth looking into some more… Sean consulted with his buddies, Kevin Carbone and Nick Kostreski.

“Nick gave me a few options and sent me a simple circuit diagram. When I found the laser component of the circuit - a garage door safety trigger, I sent the specifications over to Nick who replied, ‘That will work!!! The voltage range is perfect, and the relay that you need is already built into it!’ His excitement gave me the confidence to pull the trigger on the laser trigger purchase. Alex and I wired up a beta test circuit with electrical tape, and it worked perfectly, so he soldered everything up and even put heat shrinking wrap to be uber-professional. We put the finishing touches on Red Fred, lifted him up to the top of the zip line, powered up the electromagnet, ... and it worked! First try!” exclaimed Sean.

Sean continued, “...Well, almost. The first time I tried triggering it, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t tall enough to cross the laser beam… Whoops. But after realizing I had to reach over my head, we had our first successful test! Because it was so fun, we ‘tested’ it a little more than we needed to.”

It was all worth it. Red Fred was a giant success when it debuted at the gym’s competition in October. Sean gave some of the credit to Brian Kretsch, saying, “at Traverse, we’re lucky to have an obstacle design and rigging team with a wide variety of backgrounds. Brian Kretsch has a huge amount of experience running competitions, so he figured out the best course placement for Red Fred, and not surprisingly, with only a small margin of error, Brian estimated the number of ninjas who would get to take on Red Fred, as well as how many would successfully clear the obstacle.”

Sean Bryan

If you find yourself at Traverse Fitness, and you want to take on Red Fred, be advised: He now has a new name – “Fred Needs a Hug” – appropriate considering the technique needed to clear him.

Sean Bryan
Sean Bryan

Of course, “Fred Needs A Hug” won’t be the only obstacle you’ll want to try. The gym has a lot of exciting obstacles that you have seen on the show, but might not find in too many other gyms, such as a 20-foot tall Warped Wall, a 40-foot Super Salmon Ladder, and a 50-foot rope climb. Sean said, “Fred Needs A Hug was a chance for us to pay respect to the origins of this sport, and we’ve been blown away by the positive feedback it’s received. We’re chomping at the bit to bring more classic obstacles like this into the 21st century, as well as some incredible, 100% original obstacles that take advantage of our amazing 50-foot ceiling heights!”

Follow Traverse Fit on Instagram, Facebook, and their website, to find out when other new and creative obstacles debut.