Billy Blanks, Tae Bo creator and motivational speaker,
asks a lot of questions: What is physical fitness's great enemy?
What is the most powerful thing in the world? What does man think
But the 50-plus fitness innovator, who became an overnight
sensation in the late 1990s, seems to have the answers as he speaks
to his large audiences. The Erie, Pa., native knows all too well
about self-limitations. It wasn't until he was 35 years old that
Blanks was finally diagnosed with dyslexia, which had impeded his
learning ability and his financial success.
Physical limitations also proved challenging for
this 6-foot, 185-pound, seven-time world karate champion. Blanks took his first
martial arts class at age 11 and discovered how the movements helped him correct
a hip joint anomaly which impaired his movement. Short tendons that wouldn't stretch
or exhibit flexibility held Blanks down until he began to push himself beyond
his own boundaries through determination, discipline and spirituality.
From Erie to Los Angeles via Boston, Blanks took his
energy and enthusiasm with him and soon began to assemble a celebrity
following, which foreshadowed his financial success. He first taught
classes in his garage and then opened the Billy Blanks World Training
Center. Paula Abdul -- pre-"American Idol" -- became his
first star client. Word-of-mouth quickly brought Hollywood figures
in need of reshaping to his Sherman Oaks, Calif., gym. Pamela Anderson,
Lisa Rinna, Goldie Hawn, Vivica A. Fox, Neve Campbell and Queen
Latifah are just a few who began to push themselves and step out
of the box.
Blanks became a pop-culture sensation after he began
mass marketing his workout videos in 1998 -- eventually selling
more than 8 million DVDs, videos and CDs. Along the way, he captained
the U.S. karate team, won 36 gold medals in international competitions
and earned admission to the Karate Hall of Fame in 1982, along with
appearing in more than 20 films, videos and TV shows.
Most days, you'll find Blanks conducting early morning
Tae Bo classes and a few martial arts classes in his studio. When
not there, he might be found with the U.S. troops somewhere. Through
his three-year dedication with them, he developed "Billy's
Boot Camp," a fitness DVD. He's also created The Billy Blanks
Foundation which funds programs designed to empower disadvantaged
He reflects on his
rise to success.
childhood meant you had few opportunities afforded you.
Billy Blanks: I was the
fourth of 15 children to poor African-American parents. The streets
were pretty mean where I grew up in Erie, Pa., and I was placed
in special education classes because of my dyslexia that went undiagnosed.
I had to make my own opportunities and teach myself so that I could
get ahead. My wife had to read everything for me. When I was acting,
I would have her read and coach read me the whole script; I would
memorize everyone else's lines along with mine.
You used to teach classes in a makeshift studio in your home basement when you
moved to Los Angeles?