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Denise Jensen is a two-time Sport Karate International world champion.

Getting a kick out of life

Black belt duo find comfort in sport of karate

Denise Jensen is a warrior, and she has the marking to prove it on her left calf.

About six inches in length and one inch wide, the scar exemplifies the positive influence the sport of karate has had on Jensen's life the past three years.

During a meditation exercise for her black belt, the beaming sun apparently hit her in just the right angle -- forcing the third-degree burn on her left calf.

Through it all, Jensen says proudly, she never made a move.

It was like someone just took a welding instrument and just fired it into me, she says, adding that the positive aspect of her scarring came from the ability to block out any sign that her flesh was even burning. It wasn't until the session was over she realized what had happened.

Nothing similar to that experience is planned for Saturday's fifth annual Northwest Open Karate Exhibition and Championship at the Medford Armory.

Featuring Jensen and over 250 competitors from in and out of the state, the nationally sanctioned event benefits Kids' Choice. Eliminations will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with best of the best action from 7-9 p.m.

Jensen, who turns 39 in July, is two-time underbelt World Champion through Sport Karate International (SKI). The mother of four daughters earned her black belt inside two years, perfecting her technique between 20 and 30 hours a week in order to trim the average black belt timetable of five years.

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Jake Brown's fluid movements have made him one of — the best karate black belts in the Pacific Northwest. — —

In karate, it's the time in that makes the difference, says Shihan Jerry Piddington, who trains Jensen and about 130 others at American Karate Academy in Medford. Whatever you put into something, you're going to get back out of it. Denise is exceptional.

She really puts in the work.

The two met about three years ago when Jensen was seeking more fulfillment in her activities. She had already started bodybuilding, but found that wasn't enough for her and opted for kickboxing under the tutelage of Piddington. After a few sessions, he suggested karate as an alternative, and Jensen says her life hasn't been the same since.

When I started I just ate it up, says the No. 1-ranked female in the Pacific Northwest by SKI. I feel like karate is a combination of a very disciplined sport and an art. It gave me the best of both worlds.

It also helped fulfill her inner desire to push the limit and see how far she can go.

The other nice thing about karate is it's not really an outside sport, it's very intrinsic, Jensen says. You use your whole being -- spiritually, physically, emotionally.

The more you train, there are certain awarenesses that come to you. You become a warrior, both inside and out.

Jensen's training partner the past two years, Jake Brown, can attest to her warrior status.

Denise is an animal. She whups on everybody else, says Brown, who also will compete Saturday and is ranked No. — in forms in the Pacific Northwest by SKI.

Brown is a second-degree black belt who also teaches at American Karate Academy in Medford. Whereas Jensen's dance background and bodybuilding have helped her gain an edge in competition, Brown has had to hone his karate technique through five years of training consistent with Jensen's average hours.

I never really did any sports before I started karate, says the 20-year-old. I never felt like any of the other sports were for me so I never enjoyed them very much. I was the kind of kid who would rather stay at home and hang out with my friends.

Despite having a father involved in the martial arts, it wasn't until Brown watched a friend train for a year before he finally decided to learn karate. That delay in starting has been Brown's only regret.

It kills me but I was afraid to start martial arts. I was a really shy and reclusive person back then, he says, adding that karate has altered his persona. It's changed every aspect of my life. It's made me more outgoing and helped me in almost every social situation there is.

Jensen adds that karate has also provided a constructive way to vent her frustrations and get her aggressions out. In one exercise, she sat underneath a waterfall for about seven minutes. As the cold water poured over her, Jensen says she became aware of silence for the first time.

I'm a mom of four and I do my errands all day long and I'm really into that mom stuff, but that was really the first time in my life I can honestly say I thought about nothing, and it was the most wonderful experience, she says.

That's not to say she can translate all of her learnings to parenthood.

Actually, they can really throw me for a loop sometimes, Jensen says, laughing.

For more information on Saturday's event, call 779-0334.

Photos by Bob Pennell