When Claudia Laos-Loo tells people she competes in kata, she’s prepared for “what’s that?” and “why do you scream?”
The 26-year-old martial artist from Surrey, B.C., earned a Pan American Games bronze medal Friday in kata, which is sequences of specific karate moves, including punches, kicks, blocks, footwork and breathing techniques.
Amid a plethora of Pan Am Games combat sports, including karate’s kumite, kata is done solo, but judged against an opponent’s performance.
“What I find intriguing about kata is seeing someone go from such a relaxed state to the explosiveness and surprise elements of an attack,” Laos-Loo said.
“You have to go from zero to 100 and surprise your opponent. I do believe kata shows that on the mat. It also emphasizes how in control you are and how confident you are in your techniques and the fact you’re executing right, clean and accurate.”
As for the shrieks and shouts that erupt during certain kata moves, Laos-Loo says there’s a reason for that.
“I like to think of it as a way to release all your emotions, to not hold back. It’s also physiological,” Laos-Loos said. “You have to release all that carbon dioxide in your body to make sure the movement is full force. It is a way to release your fears.
“If you’re encountering anybody in the street, for example, you want to show your confidence or how strong you can stand your ground, just by screaming sometimes. You don’t even need to make a move.”
Karate, including kata, was included in Tokyo’s Olympic Games program in 2021, but isn’t on the menu in Paris in 2024 or Los Angeles in 2028.
Laos-Loo, who competed at a national level in kumite, began training kata in 2019, but not in time for Tokyo.
So the Pan Am Games in Santiago, Chile, were her chance to experience a multisport Games as part of a larger Canadian team.
“I personally made this my goal two years ago to qualify and compete at these Games,” Laos-Loo said. “I literally train in my garage by myself. Just me and my phone if I want to record myself. I’m used to being in isolation.
“I love being surrounded by people who have like-mindedness. I think I don’t get that enough locally where I’m from so whenever we come to big events as a team, I feel more at ease knowing I have people who support me and we support each other doing the things that we love.”
Laos-Loo was born in Lima, Peru and emigrated when she was five to Canada with her family. Her parents Laura and Eduardo operate a Peruvian restaurant in Vancouver’s Gastown.
Laos-Loo doesn’t qualify for the national Athletes’ Assistance Program, or carding money. She graduated from Simon Fraser in 2021 with a bachelor of science and also has a certificate in occupational ergonomics.
She works as a Starbucks barista from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. before twice-daily workouts.
Competing with the Canadian team in Santiago and reaching the podium reminded her of those who have supported her, despite the lonely training hours.
“There’s so many people at home that got me to where I am and I could have never done it alone,” she said. “It’s a medal that means so much to me and it’s part of a team. I train by myself, but there’s a whole team behind me.”
But Laos-Loo says training alone was an advantage Friday when her Chilean opponent in their bronze-medal round had raucous support at the combat sport venue.
“I heard Chile chants and I know my parents are in the crowd amongst all the Chilean fans, but I completely blocked out the noise and it felt like I was back in my garage training by myself,” she said.