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Green River karate instructor medals in jumps at Northwest Senior Games
James Penor is no stranger to awards.
As an elite, international martial artist, Penor, 60, has won more than 100 trophies and medals in International Karate Association competitions.
Indeed, just last year, Penor – who has taught karate at Auburn's Green River Community College for 17 years and at the Unified Shito-Ryu Academy in Bellevue– took first place in forms at the IKA World Cup in Toronto in his age group and placed first among all age groups in the weapons competition.
One might imagine that with all those medals and with all that hardware and glory, Penor would be satisfied.
At the 2012 Northwest Senior Games in Seattle June 2, Penor added to his feats a first-place finish in the long jump and a second in the high jump.
"I saw an article about the senior games in a magazine and decided to compete," he said. "This is an Olympic year, and I just felt like I should see what I could do. That's all there was. I didn't really practice. It's pretty tough to practice, especially the high jump, unless you know somebody at a school. But I just wanted to see what I could do. It turned out pretty good."
Penor notched a 4 feet, 7 inch high jump to grab second, and leapt to a 12-4 distance for first in the long jump.
Penor was 14 the last time he competed in track and field.
"When I was in elementary school my claim to fame, as a Japanese kid in Seattle, was being the fastest runner in my school (Cooper Elementary)," Penor said. "I made the track team, and played basketball and flag football. I did that until age 14, and then I became a hippie."
In the mid-70s, Penor became enamored of martial arts legend Bruce Lee and began his training in the discipline. Eventually, he would earn a fifth-degree black belt while training with renowned sensei Soke Kubota.
In 1988 he began teaching martial arts. He credits his success in the games to the discipline.
"The main thing is I have to attribute all this to martial arts," he said. "The jumping is related a little to the karate I do, which helped me a little bit. Without that, I don't think I could have done this."
In addition to winning the long jump, Penor said, the highlight of the competition was watching the other athletes, including someone he knew from long ago.
"The neat thing was I met an old friend of mine from way back in elementary school days and competed with him in the high jump," Penor said. "I beat him only because I had fewer misses. We jumped the same height. That was kind of a cool reunion. I hadn't seen him for probably 20 years."
Penor, whose youthful appearance belies his six decades, said the secret to staying young has been his commitment to regular exercise.
"So many people do not exercise regularly," he said. "They may have been great athletes way back when but they don't continue to train. That's the main thing. I just wish more people would do it. Being around for several years now, it's sad to see a lot of my friends who used to compete but their health has gotten to them. They've had knee operations, or hip replacements or they end up with cancer. It's just sad to see it going that way."
"The main thing is just to make it a part of your life," he said. "Whether it's walking or going to the gym. You just need to make it a weekly, monthly, yearly thing. That's what helps me do what I do."
For more information on Penor and Unified Shito-Ryu Academy visit www.unifiedshitoryu.org.