Billy Blanks (born September 1, 1955) is a fitness guru, martial artist, actor, and the inventor of Tae Bo.
Born the fourth of fifteen children to a hard-working but poor African-American couple, Isaac and Mabeline Blanks, Billy had few opportunities on the mean streets of Erie, Pennsylvania. Complicating his young life, he was afflicted with undiagnosed dyslexia and placed in special education classes. He also suffered a problem in his hip joints which impaired his movement, resulting in a clumsiness that brought the taunts of his siblings and caused his coaches to think he would never amount to much.
Billy took his first martial arts class at age eleven and, discovering how to correct for his physical problems, soon began to gain a mastery of the sport and himself. He won more and more matches and, eventually, scores of local, state and national competitions. In 1975 he became the first Amateur Athletic Union Champion, a title he would earn five times in all. He ascended to become a seventh-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, the leading Korean form of karate, and gained black belts in five other forms of martial arts. He became a seven-time world karate champion, captained the U.S. karate team, won 36 gold medals in international competition and earned admission to the Karate Hall of Fame in 1982. Not confining his skills to the dojo, Billy Blanks also became the 1984 Massachusetts Golden Gloves Champion (light-heavyweight class) and the Tri-State Golden Gloves Champion of Champions.
Having moved to Boston as an adult, Blanks opened his own karate studio and began teaching classes. It was there that he unintentionally hit upon the concept for Tae Bo in 1975. “I was creating some exercises for myself because I wanted to get in better aerobic shape,” he explains, when he decided to combine Tae Kwon Do moves with dance music. Dismissed by some in Boston as a fleeting trend, one capitalizing on the newfound popularity of disco music, there was no denying the allure of what Blanks called Tae Bo (a name which he spliced from Tae Kwon Do and boxing, later creating the backronym Total Awareness Excellence Body Obedience).
Whatever limitations Boston seemed to impose, they quickly melted under the perennial sun of Los Angeles, where Blanks moved in 1989. He taught classes in his garage, then opened the Billy Blanks World Training Center in Sherman Oaks. With his first celebrity clients, including singer-dancer Paula Abdul, word-of-mouth soon opened the floodgates. During the 1990’s and to the present, those embracing Tae Bo included such stars as Pamela Anderson, Justine Batemen, Catherine Bell, Valerie Bertinelli, Neve Campbell, Rae Dawn Chong, Rebecca De Mornay, Farrah Fawcett, Vivica Fox, Goldie Hawn, Queen Latifa, Emmanuel Lewis, Ryan O’Neal, Lisa Renna, Lela Rochon, Jack Scalia, Connie Selleca, Brooke Shields, Sinbad and Shannon Tweed. Athletes seeking to stay in top physical shape also flocked to the studio, including Wayne Gretzky, Bruce Jenner, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal.
With its star endorsements, and the infusion of some professional marketing muscle, Tae Bo became an unprecedented national success and Billy Blanks a recognized fitness expert. His record-breaking infomercials defeated all others, and his workout videos became #1 best-sellers, generating sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Major market newspapers and newsmagazines trumpeted a new exercise phenomenon. Among countless other talk shows appearances, Oprah shaped up with his help during a weeklong appearance in the Bahamas. More recently, Bantam released his first book, The Tae Bo Way, which not only shares his workout routines but also Blanks’ philosophy and personal story.
Concurrent with his rise as a fitness expert and physical trainer to the stars, Blanks has also built an impressive resume as an actor. He has appeared in 18 movies including Kiss the Girls, The Last Boy Scout, Bloodfist, Lionheart, Talons of the Eagle, Back in Action, Stand Alone, Balance of Power and The King of the Kickboxers. On television, Blanks has been seen in such episodic shows as Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,The Parkers,” Suddenly Susan, ER, Melrose Place, Martial Law,Street Justice, Spenser: For Hire.
Blanks is Christian and released a special line of Tae Bo workouts called the “Believer’s” series that includes motivational prayers and other Christian components. He has appeared on Christian television network TBN.
He is married to his high school sweetheart, Gayle Godfrey Blanks, since 1975. Their daughter, Shellie, born later that same year, is also an accomplished martial artist and is prominently featured in many of Billy’s Tae Bo videos. Billy is not her biological father, but adopted her and raised her as his own. They also have a son, Billy Jr., who has acted in a touring production of Fame.
The character of Dee Jay from the street fighter series of games is modeled after him.