Though officially opening Jan. 5, Mark Hensel’s Downtown Dojo is already training about nine students in the disciplines of Kenpo Karate. The dojo is open to students from age 3 through senior citizens.
For Hensel it has been a long and circuitous road to find his calling back in the place where he started.
He was born and raised in Michigan and attended high school at Ann Arbor Pioneer. After a brief stint in community college he began to travel the country doing odd jobs such as bartending and construction. He lived in seven states in four years.
Hensel finally settled down in Tucson, AZ where he met his wife. He played bass in a band called “The Mockingbirds” and began teaching kickboxing (Muay Thai) at Gilbert Velez’s dojo, or Japanese martial arts training center, in exchange for lessons in Kenpo Karate.
Velez is a 10th degree black belt and head of the IKKA, the International Kenpo Karate Association. He was trained by “the father of American Kenpo,” Ed Parker. This makes Hensel only two degrees separated from the master.
After almost 12 years in Tucson, marriage and parenthood changed Hensel’s ideas about where to live. His worries in Tucson included, scorpions, black widows, pet-killing coyotes and crime. Also the education system was not what he desired for his son.
So four years ago, Hensel and his wife moved to Saline. Before the move, however, a back injury had limited his mobility. Nevertheless he found work in real estate and in managing a coffee house, while his wife worked as a graphic designer.
Through physical therapy and determination, Hensel’s back problem became less debilitating.
“To be perfectly honest I just kind of made a decision that I wasn’t going to let it screw me over anymore,” Hensel said.
About a year and a half ago he began to feel he could consider the possibility of starting his own dojo, teaching Kenpo Karate.
“I knew that the best thing I could do for my back was to stay in shape,” Hensel said. “And this [Keno teaching] is what I’m best at and like best of anything I’ve ever done, by far.”
Hensel was also excited to find a location for his training center in the heart of Saline. He described the downtown dojo as a “dream come true.”
Hensel plans to remain true to Kenpo Karate as developed by Ed Parker. Unlike the popular image of Karate, Kenpo is not about breaking things with one’s hands. It is a self-defense discipline based on Chinese Shaolin and different styles of Kung Fu. It entails 154 unique techniques that are practiced repeatedly. Sparring is also essential.
Training age groups include Lil’ Dragons (3 – 5), Kid’s Kenpo (6 – 12), Youth Kenpo (13 – 16) and Adult Kenpo.
“I’m really interested in making this as family-friendly as possible,” Hensel said. “I’d love to see whole families in here training.”
The downtown dojo is located at 106 N. Ann Arbor Street.