In 2011, Saugus resident Shannon Laurin, 26, and her family traveled to Canada to compete in a prestigious, international karate tournament.
Although she earned her black belt at 7 years old and competed in multiple national competitions before, Shannon’s father and martial arts instructor, Michel, said this tournament showed him how special she really was.
Shannon, a fourth-dan black belt, said she competed in the adult division despite only being 15 at the time and with the well-known Russian and Japanese teams participating in the tournament, Michel said it was their first time gauging how competitive she could be against the “best in the world.”
“We had to put her in the adults because nobody under 18 want to fight her,” Michel said. “The Russians, at the time, were the best in the world in full-contact fighting and she just went in there and beat everybody. That’s when I knew she was pretty good.”
After winning multiple international competitions and the grand championships several times in a row, Shannon represented Santa Clarita Karate, her family karate studio, and traveled to Las Vegas last month where she won the gold medal in the 18-34 Female Elite 61 kg Kumite division at the prestigious USA Open & Junior International Cup 2022.
Thousands of martial artists from all over the world compete in the USA Karate Open every year, but only the best of the best compete in the elite division, including members of the U.S. Olympic team, according to Michel.
Shannon said her goal is to compete for Team USA in the Olympics. With this being a Team USA-sanctioned tournament, Shannon knew the pressure was on her to leave the best impression so she can compete in their team trials.
“If you ever want a chance to compete at [the Olympic] level, you have to do well in this [competition],” Michel said.
She might have some nerves going into the competition, but once she bows as she steps on the mat, Shannon said she is never intimidated by anyone she faces.
“It’s really important to not underestimate your opponent, but you can’t ever let anyone intimidate you,” Shannon said. “I always go in with the mindset of, ‘I’m gonna win this,’ and I think that’s how you have to be. I’m confident, but I don’t let my guard down.”
Shannon emphasized that martial arts is more of a mental game than a physical one. She said although the sport is physical, if you let your opponent get in your head, then it already puts you at a serious disadvantage.
“It’s like a game of chess,” Shannon said. “I think it’s important to have those nerves because it gives you a little bit of an edge if you use them the right way.”
After weighing in, the competitors are matched up against each other based on which division they will compete in. The competition schedule is set up in a bracket format, meaning each competitor who wins moves on to face another winner in the next round.
During the fights, a kick to the head is worth three points, a kick to the body is two points and a punch is one point. Each competitor keeps fighting until they lose and, for Shannon, moving up the bracket was not an easy climb.
In her first fight of the competition, Shannon was matched up against someone from Team India and started off slow, finding herself down in an 0-4 hole early.
With 46 seconds left in the match, Shannon noticed she was down and flipped a switch, not letting her opponent score another point the rest of the match. Shannon won 8-4, scoring all eight of her points in less than a minute.
“The whole time I was saying, ‘I’m not losing,’ and ‘I’m not getting eliminated here,’” Shannon said.
Shannon took that mentality and ran with it, plowing through the fighters in her division before ultimately getting a spot in the gold medal match.
Before the final, Shannon and Michel were watching her opponent she would face for the gold medal match. They said they noticed she was more of a close distance fighter who used her hands more than her legs in combat.
Initially, Shannon’s game plan was to use her kicking ability, including her specialty sidekick to the gut, to keep her distance and stay away from close hand-to-hand combat.
Once the gold medal match began, Shannon said she opened up their fight with a flurry of kicks, causing her opponent to focus mainly on her leg attacks.
“She was so focused on my legs and not getting hit by them that I was able to get in and punch her, so most of the points I scored against her were from punching,” Shannon said.
To begin her fights, Michel said he tells Shannon to throw her side kick because it reminds her opponent to not charge in or they will get the wind knocked out of them.
“Her side kick is so powerful that after she hits them once or twice, then they hesitate before they get closer and that’s how she starts the fight,” Michel said. “Once you do get that and they get scared, it’s time to dominate.”
Shannon believes it is her versatility as a martial artist that separates herself from others. Although she depends on her kicking ability, Shannon also possesses elite hand-striking ability and mental toughness.
“I always just do my own thing,” Shannon said. “I’m not too focused on playing their game. Once I get into it, whatever they’re doing doesn’t matter as much.”
Michel said he never questioned Shannon’s potential to win the tournament because he knew her skillset and talent were more than enough to win. He also said it was important for her to do well because she wanted to make a name for herself so she could compete for a spot on Team USA.
“A lot of the tournaments worldwide know her, but in this [tournament], not many people there knew her so we wanted to make her mark,” Michel said. “Now they know you, when you go to the USA training camp, and the coach will know what you can do. I’m just very, very proud and she relieved a lot of pressure.”
After winning six karate world championships of his own, Michel opened Santa Clarita Karate in Saugus in 1995 with his wife, Lorna, and has trained Shannon and her brother, John Michael, in the art of Shorinjiryu Shindo Budo Kwai, a style of Okinawan karate.
Along with learning proper combat techniques, Shannon and Michel said martial arts also teaches people the importance of never giving up and always trying your best in everything.
“They apply to anything in sports, school, work, relationships, or whatever you’re doing,” Shannon said. “If you try your best and you never give up, and then eventually you’re going to find success.”
Michel said his main motivation to continue sharing his extensive martial arts knowledge is because he has the potential to make a difference in his students’ lives.
“If I can make a difference in their life to be successful in whatever they decide to do, then I did my job and to me, that’s what keeps me going.”