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
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
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
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.