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Thursday, 05/10/2012, 07:31 am

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VIDEO | Blind BJJ Fighter Finds Inspiration from B.J. Penn, Florian Brothers


Shannon Cantan is in many ways a typical young athlete with dreams of mixed martial arts success. A Hawaii native who transplanted to Boston, he grew up idolizing fighters B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian.

In high school he ran track, played football and competed on the wrestling team. More recently he has found success in the world of martial arts, taking home two bronze and two silver medals at local Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments.

Yet Cantan’s competition has one advantage that he doesn’t. Eyesight.

Cantan suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that can leave sufferers blind at an early age. Boston’s Fox25 profiled the fighter this past weekend following the “UFC on Fox 3” card, and what became clear is that Cantan is a tough, driven competitor who serves as an inspiration to many.

“I don’t have any usable vision while traveling, really,” he said recently as he rode Boston’s subway — known as “the T” to locals. “But the T’s [been] my best friend since I moved to the city.”

Cantan’s daily commute takes him to Boston’s Florian Martial Arts Center, where he trains under Ken Bailey and Keith Florian, brother of UFC star Kenny Florian.

“Besides B.J., Kenny was probably my second favorite fighter,” said Cantan. “I got excited when I met him, and then he told me he had an academy. And I’m like, ‘you do?’ So I hopped on a train and found my way to their academy.”

In training Cantan, Keith Florian has seen his student’s blindness function more as an advantage than a hindrance.

“If anything [his blindness] is almost like a benefit,” said Florian. “His sensitivity takes over … I feel like it’s almost something that’s an advantage for him. [People] will find out real fast that they can’t [take it easy] with him.”

Cantan says his next challenge is earning a gold medal in competition, but Florian says his young student has already achieved great things in the world of martial arts.

“He’s someone to look up to. He’s someone to revere, that [says] ‘Hey, listen. I may have a small setback, but I can achieve just as much, if not more, than anybody else in this gym.’ And he proves it all the time.”

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8 Comments to VIDEO | Blind BJJ Fighter Finds Inspiration from B.J. Penn, Florian Brothers

  1. Train the trainer says:

    Amazing Story to follow-up on, thanks! God bless you Shannon.

  2. effyocouch says:

    I’ve seen this kid roll, he was in my friend’s division at Naga in Springfield, MA last year. At first I found it weird that they were starting him out by letting him hold on to his opponents gi, then I quickly learned he’s blind. He took third place that day after some hard fought battles and I thought it was the coolest thing so I talked to him for a few minutes, congratulating him and stuff, and he is such a down to earth, nice dude, and a seriously skilled grappler. Thanks for posting this video!

  3. Ninja Oreo Dollop says:

    Shannon “The Daredevil” Canten

    This was a great story I hope he accomplishes his goals in the FL tournament.

  4. ThaGreenBandit says:

    Wow!

  5. Shell says:

    That’s my little brother! So proud of him! And it’s Cantan, not Canten! Lol!

  6. wow says:

    amazing story..good luck on the tournament

  7. Justin says:

    2 things. WOW to this guy, he is awesome! and the Second thing is I have a little bit more faith in humanity again. Typically, when i browse the comment section of these blogs I find most people bashing each other and the topic. Thank you for having only good things to say. He deserves to be recognized!

  8. Isaac says:

    Can anyone contact this kid? They recently developed implants that have given two men blinded eyesight that were blinded by the same condition.

    http://life.nationalpost.com/2012/05/10/electronic-retinas-give-blind-men-sight/?__lsa=2d976131

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