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Letters Read At The Dojo Memorial

Mark Hodel was truly a fixture in the Bujinkan, especially for those of us who trained in this region of the country. Many of you don't know this, but when I was going through some tough times with employment last year, he was one of the few that offered me some advice that only someone like my father would have said to me.

Looking back to the first time I met him, through the years of workshops, Gasshukus and seminars, up to the last time I spoke with him this past June, I know that I can't say that I knew him as well as many of you, but I think that I knew him well enough to be proud to have called him a friend. He was truly a man whose presence will be noticeably missed but never forgotten.

Deepest regrets and condolences,
Joe Bunales and the Bunales clan

Since I will be in Seattle tomorrow it is not possible for me to attend the memorial for Mark. If there were any other way I would be there at the memorial. I have so many thoughts at the moment that it is hard to filter them and say something truly meaningful.

Maybe I should start at the very beginning. I first met Mark at a small Taikai in Ohio in 1985. I was rooming with a group of good natured Buyu from Stockton, California and they introduced me to their Sensei Mark. As he always has since, Mark welcomed me warmly and offered his help with anything that I needed. Then Mark faded into the background. Since then I have seen Mark organize Taikais and seminars with and for Jack and yet Mark never wanted to be the front man, he always let Jack do that part. Truly a humble man who did not want public recognition for what he did or accomplished. A gentle man who always acted friendly and courteously. He helped save several businesses. He was an intelligent man who went out of his way to do the job right. A mentor to a huge number of people, too many to count.

Through interacting with Mark I met many of you in the Kenosha Dojo, Larry Sells (sp.?), members of the Stockton Dojo as well as many other people that I consider my Buyu. Mark never charged a lot for training and in fact may have lost money keeping a dojo going. I will never forget his Bujin can. His priority was the training, not the money. Who else would have had a barbershop as a front for their dojo? Mark also organized the reprinting of the book by Robert Humphrey as a tribute to Jack Hoban for his birthday. A true and caring friend indeed. The last time I saw Mark in the summer of 2010 he was as friendly and welcoming as he ever was. It was always a pleasure to see Mark.

In the end I wish that I knew Mark better. I wish he had come out to more Gasshuku at James' farm in the last few years. I wish he had come down to Etsuko and my wedding. I wish I had made more of an effort to attend training in Kenosha so that I could have seen him one last time.

In the end Mark led a remarkable life. How many people can truly say that they led a life based on Ninpo? But we can say that about Mark. We will miss Mark, but to keep his memory alive, each one of us must commit to the task of being a friend to someone who needs a friend, mentoring younger people who need a mentor, and doing our very best in our interactions with other people to be supportive and to help other people achieve their goals. I think that Mark would be very happy if we could achieve even half of what he accomplished. Let us keep Mark's memory alive and make this his legacy by following in his footsteps. Let's make this a happy time and rededicate ourselves to doing what is right in life. That would give Mark the honor that is due him for what he tried to accomplish here on Earth for his Buyu throughout his life.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend Mark's memorial gathering. I hold the highest respect for Mark, and thus I feel compelled to pass on some thoughts to honor his memory. I do not have a complete e-mail list of all the Buyu I know. Thus, please feel free to share this e-mail with anyone you deem as appropriate.

As mentioned by other Buyu, Mark was a humble and subtle person. He conducted his life in such a way as to promote happiness and success for the good people around him. Mark was a dedicated father, who you could tell loved his son with all his heart. Mark had a passion for Bujinkan martial arts and made it a life ambition to promote training here in America. Mark was around American Bujinkan training in the beginning era, and he contributed so much to training over the years. We as American Buyu must give some thanks to Mark for his countless contributions and for how wonderful American Bujinkan training is today.

Mark made it all seem easy with accomplishments like being a personal student of Dr. Masaaki Hatsumi, obtaining the Bujinkan rank of master instructor, hosting multiple Tai Kai's and seminars, guiding and possibly saving many young minds, being a wise and supportive friend, and many other accomplishments, too many to list.

As far as Ninjas go, Mark was the genuine article. Mark existed humbly, almost invisible in the background ensuring that everything around him was flowing in the direction of positive ethical revolution, training enlightenment, and everyone in his life being happy, healthy, and safe. Mark stood quiet as a warrior, but was always prepared and ready in case fate called upon him. I hate to imagine what the outcome would have been without Mark's unseen efforts and influence present in training and in our lives.

If I accomplish in my life half as much as Mark had accomplished in his life, then I could say that I did an excellent job with my life and wasted nothing.

Mark, my loving thoughts are with you and your family.

You will be dearly missed.

I first met Mark in 1995, shortly after moving to Chicago. My original Budo instructor was no longer accessible and soon left the Bujinkan completely. Mark graciously invited me to his place to train. It was also the first time in many that Mark gave the most abstract directions possible, which ensured I bumbled around Racine and Pleasant Prairie, until I reached his house.

I’ve since realized that Mark’s ambiguous directions are metaphorical for training and life. There are many paths to a destination; there are many options in learning Budo; one gains experience by taking a longer and more challenging route. Even in his passing, Mark is still teaching me, as he is all of us.

Mark seldom spoke of rank. Rather he emphasized life rank and Taijutsu rank. Nonetheless, he readily volunteered to write letters of recommendation when needed or asked. Without exception these opened doors beyond my reach, demonstrating how many lives he touched, how many individuals were ready to agree to his recommendation because of Mark’s character.

Now Mark belongs to the ages. Like all of us I will miss my friend and teacher. However, I’m sure his lessons will continue to guide me and resonate in me as I gain comprehension with age.

Thank you, Mark-San.

I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.

Martial Heart

Last Saturday, I woke up to the very call nobody should ever wake up to. You may have heard by now, but if you haven’t, we have lost one of our own – Mark Hodel passed away last Friday from a heart attack. He was 57. He is survived by his sisters Anne and Page and his son Andrew.

Mark was one of the first, a pioneer of the Bujinkan in America. As one of its “Founding Fathers,” Mark was the 5th American to take the Godan test, co-sponsored the first American Tai Kai, and completed some 40-plus years of martial arts training. A lifelong student, he also mentored those who asked (and some who didn’t) and watched over plenty of folks along the way, opening not just his home for training, but also his heart.

I first met Mark in 1999 and enjoyed a strong friendship with him ever since. He arrived with Jack Hoban, hosting the first Buyu seminar in the Midwest, or perhaps it was one of the first. There were like, eight of us there or something - it was very small. Mark introduced himself to me with a smile and a firm handshake, “Welcome,” he said. He was friendly, accommodating, and kind. He remained that way all of the years I knew him.

Mark recommended I teach at the second Buyu Camp I attended some years ago – a step into a larger world I might not have taken on my own. But that was Mark for you – he pushed me, mentoring with the confidence he would freely give away, recognizing and handing our own potential back to us saying, ‘keep going,’ (you’re almost there).

Training is a very personal thing. There is and probably will always be much debate as to its efficacy and essentialness – is it just a hobby sharing time with model shipbuilding and tennis? Or is it something more, something deeper, spiritual even? How we choose to answer that is incumbent on our perspective, the perceptivity of our training experience, and what it means to us in the big picture. I don’t go to church, I no longer practice my Catholic faith, I still respect it and believe in a higher power, in my own personal way. But for me, I train. Training answers for me the great moral questions, it directs my thoughts and actions and shapes my character; I believe in its law, a naturalness to understanding justice and what is right and wrong in the world around me.

Mark did too. He knew the importance of it, the weight and burden of it, so never questioned why, he just accepted, until such time he could understand things more fully, embracing the change, his evolution in thought. He was smart that way, patient, fervently loyal to training’s long-term goal, while prioritizing his life among his loved ones and friends. I will miss my friend Mark as will the thousands of other people around the world whose lives he touched.

Attached are 10 questions I sent Mark in 2002. He sent his answers back to me right away, as I recall, and I am so thankful he did. It is an amazing read - in his voice – and displays the quiet brilliance of Mark’s understanding of Budo. Some can train martial arts the whole of their lives and never realize the subtle shades Mark knew intrinsically, the nuances that provide that last piece of the puzzle, giving us clarity to navigate in a sometimes brutal world. Mark knew these truths simply, like he knew his name, like he knew the sun would rise tomorrow. His words, just like he did in life, shine a light on the path so the rest of us can find our way.

The life we lead is also the imprint we leave behind, the track others can see and sense and follow. The imprint Mark left was as a minder of the path, a guardian on it, standing sometimes on its sidelines just to make sure others were not getting lost, or confused, or standing still. And in those cases, he would reach out, offering us a necessary hand, righting our balance, until such time we needed to be righted again. And he would be there, again. This was Mark’s Taijutsu - his life’s last and greatest lesson - that inspired us and led us by example.

If you knew Mark, please keep him and his family in your thoughts. If you didn’t, please say a prayer for him, and one as well for yourself, that you might know someone someday, an expert in martial heart like Mark Hodel.