Release Date: 
Friday, December 14, 2018

Army veteran, skydiver, Hapkido grand master develops his own form of martial arts

photo of Marshall Gagne dressed in his kimono, displaying a sword

HFC alumnus Marshall Gagne (pronounced “Gone-yay”) has gone back and forth between engineering and teaching martial arts his entire professional career.

In the end, he chose martial arts, which he has taught either full-time or part-time for 50 years – including at HFC.

“I’m very passionate about teaching martial arts,” said Gagne, a Detroit native and 1974 alumnus of HFC, where he earned associate degrees in construction and mechanical engineering.

In fact, Gagne developed his own form of martial arts called Won Moo Do, which he’ll be teaching at Grace Foothills Ministry Center in Tryon, NC at the beginning of 2019.

Won Moo Do translates to “full circle martial arts,” a description of the form’s focus on circular techniques. It merges techniques of various martial arts, including Tae Kwan Do and Hapkido.

“When you perform Won Moo Do, you execute a complete spin,” said Gagne. “I developed my own form of martial arts after 50 years.”

Learning martial arts in the Army

After graduating from Oscar A. Carlson High School in Gibraltar, Gagne enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967, where he learned hand-to-hand combat and was in the 82nd Airborne. He joined the Golden Knights, the Army’s demonstration and competition parachute team. The Knights performed skydiving feats all over the nation.

In 1969, Gagne was sent to Korea. He worked in flight operations in the Army’s helicopter unit and was the safety officer for all the skydiving activities in the northern part of South Korea. During his tenure in Korea, Gagne wondered what he would do with his free time.

The first thing that came to mind was learning martial arts, especially since it originated in Korea centuries ago. Gagne first discovered Hapkido, and later Tae Kwan Do, delving into both disciplines. He would train 2-3 hours per day, 6-7 days per week, and would even trade shifts with fellow soldiers to pursue his martial arts training.

By the time he was honorably discharged as a Specialist 5 in 1970, Gagne earned his black belt in Tae Kwan Do prior to returning to the United States. He now has an 8th degree black belt and 21 dans (martial arts degrees). In 2010, he was inducted into the Martial Arts World Hall of Fame and recognized as a grandmaster in Hapkido during a ceremony in Korea.

Martial arts sensei and business coach

Gagne attended HFC on the G.I. Bill, while working at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn. During his time at HFC, he was one of the first people – if not the first – to ever teach martial arts at the College. At first, it was unofficial – he was teaching several people in a hallway – and then became official after many students wanted to sign up. He taught martial arts on the balcony of the gym in what is now the Athletic Memorial Building.

Gagne taught martial arts in Michigan, mostly in the downriver area. His dojo in Trenton, "America’s Best Self-Defense," had approximately 300 students, 70 of whom were bussed in from all over southeastern Michigan. He and his students did martial arts demonstrations at fairs, malls, and schools throughout the region.

In 2000, Gagne relocated to North Carolina, where he continues to teach martial arts. In addition, he is a martial arts business coach whose seminars help martial arts teachers build their schools and increase their number of students. Gagne also runs a distance learning program. He has found that online lessons are a very economical way to learn a martial art or complement someone’s regular training.

“Our video lessons offer you the ultimate accessibility of learning anywhere you have Internet access,” he said. “You can learn on your own schedule and at your own pace.”

He has written five books and produced 16 DVDs that are used all over the world.

“Martial arts is not about fighting. It’s about self-improvement, about becoming a better person,” said Gagne. “People develop confidence – that’s Number One. Martial arts increases everyone’s confidence, making them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually stronger.”

To learn more about Gagne and his work, visit