Grayling woman who started martial arts training years ago as a way to combat Parkinson’s disease earns black belt

Penny Derenzy, of Grayling, passed her karate black belt test on Sunday, April 23, and she hopes her story might inspire more people to try martial arts.
Penny said she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – “a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system and the parts of the body controlled by the nerves,” according to the Mayo Clinic – in May of 2017 and she “spent two years in denial.”
“I just got to the point where I needed to do something about it,” Penny said.
Penny said one of her doctors said to exercise and “be fanatical about it.”
“The only thing that can change the trajectory of Parkinson’s disease is exercise. Exercise will help slow that process down,” Penny said.
Penny said she read that boxing was good for exercise for those with Parkinson’s disease and thought, “why not martial arts?” She said her husband, Corey, played hockey with someone who was into martial arts, and that’s how she met and started training with local grand master Zack Burns, founder of New World Karate.
“I said, ‘hey, are you willing to take on a 50-year-old Parkinson’s patient?’ I don’t think he really knew what he was getting into,” Penny said.
“Penny was an exceptional student,” Zack said. “She tried hard the whole time.”
Penny said Corey and Zack have been very supportive during the process.
“I made (Corey) go to the first class with me. He fell in love with it too,” Penny said.
“It took (Corey) a little longer to fall in love with it,” Zack said. “He’s close to getting his black belt too.”
Corey and Penny hosted karate classes for a while in their garage and then decided to build a dojo next to their house.
“I need to exercise all the time. I found something I like to do. I had to have some place to exercise,” Penny said. “(Corey) has been a huge support. He sacrifices a lot so I can do this. He knows I need it.”
“It’s really changed my life,” Penny said.
The Derenzys also use the dojo for New World Karate classes.
“It’s nice to be able to share it,” Penny said.
Penny said the black belt test was difficult. The test involved forms (“sequence of moves in a certain order and intensity”), board breaking, questions to answer, self defense moves (including defense against weapons), takedowns, and sparring (including two on one), she said. Grand masters and black belts judged the test, and it took about two hours, Penny said.
“I definitely wouldn’t want to do it twice, that’s for sure,” Penny said. “It’s pretty nerve racking.”
Zack said Penny “passed her (black belt) test with flying colors” and will now be teaching karate classes.
“It will be a challenge but it will probably be good for me,” Penny said.
Corey is also a karate teacher.
“I’m really proud of both of them,” Zack said. “Their whole lives have basically been dedicated to martial arts since they started.”
“There’s just something about it that grabs a hold of you,” Penny said. “It’s great. I don’t know where I’d be in my disease progression if I hadn’t found martial arts.”
“It’s a lot of work but it’s also fun at the same time,” Penny said. “You’re never too old to start. I think anyone who has an interest should try it.”
New World Karate will conduct a free Self Defense and Awareness Seminar for Women (age 13 and up) at the dojo (located at 5897 Rosemary Lane, off of Evergreen Drive) on Sunday, May 21, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The event will collect donations for River House Shelter.
New World Karate also offers martial arts classes and the first one “is always free,” Zack said. Starting on May 1, New World Karate will offer classes five days a week (Monday through Friday).
For more information on the classes or the self defense seminar, contact New World Karate via Facebook (Grayling Karate), via email at, or via phone at 989.390.0202.

Crawford County Avalanche

Mailing Address
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Grayling, MI 49738

Phone: 989-348-6811
FAX: 989-348-6806

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