For Billy Blanks, true fitness is as much about developing spiritual strength as it is about being physical.
“Life isn’t easy,” creator of martial arts-based training Tae Bo told Yahoo Life. “It’s hard to mend a broken world when you’re broken inside. But when you start growing from within, all of a sudden that light that you walk with starts blowing on others.
It’s a philosophy he’s carried since childhood, when martial arts was an escape from the bullies who targeted him for his dyslexia. Karate, he says, gave him permission to dream big.
“At that time, nobody knew what dyslexia was,” he says of the reading disorder. “They put me in special education, thinking I was mentally handicapped – but I wasn’t. I was a shy kid who had a learning disability. And when I got involved in the martial arts, it gave me the confidence to do it on my own and I realized I could do it.
The word “success” is an understatement for Blanks, 67, who created Tae Bo training (a combination of all his passions: martial arts, boxing and dance) while running a small karate studio in Quincy, Mass. , in the late-1970s. At the time, he had no idea it would become a pop culture phenomenon.
The idea was simple: “Put karate to music”, understanding that every punch and every kick “must be in your heart”, he says. “I wanted women to feel like warriors.”
Originally called “karobics,” Tae Bo’s name change, intended to appeal to both men and women, combines the word “tae,” which means “legs” in Korean, and bo, an abbreviated form of “boxing.” . His series of workout videos would soon become an all-time bestseller, with an estimated 1.5 million sets sold by the end of the 1990s; today, Blanks’ virtual workouts continue to gather new swarms of fans online.
“It’s always been a vision and a dream that one day I’m going to come up with an exercise that would change the world,” says Blanks. Her Christian faith has always shaped her philosophies around health and fitness; he even drew inspiration from his on-camera persona while watching television sermons.
“I look and act like my mind and my will” was (and still is) his mantra, he says. “It all starts from the inside out, not the outside in.” But that doesn’t mean his faith was untested.
Blanks recalls a memorable business meeting in 1990s California, where Tae Bo was gaining popularity among women. The executives of “one of the biggest video companies in the world” told him he would not be able to “attract white women” to Central America because he was a black man.
“They said, ‘Mr. Blanks, you know, we like the stuff you talk about, but being black, we don’t think you’ll work in the Midwest. I said, ‘OK, that’s it. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it,” he said, after which he and his manager walked out. “My manager, his mouth just [dropped]. He couldn’t believe it.
“I said, let’s go back to my studio and keep doing what I’m doing, you know, because eventually, maybe one day I’ll end up making a video,” he recalled saying.
Never one to let things get ugly, Blanks says it’s all about “persevering” when you’re faced with challenges. Plus, it’s important to “stay humble” when you seemingly have the world at your fingertips.
“Personally, I have to step off the board, because if it wasn’t for God and if it wasn’t for the people, Billy Blanks would be nothing. I didn’t allow my ego to get involved. down that road,” he says of fame. “People say to me, ‘You should retire. You should do this.’ No no. I want to go out. I want to be around people. I want to help people.”
True to his word, Blanks isn’t slowing down. The fitness icon continues to make Tae Bo videos – for free, on her YouTube channel. His latest video series, Billy’s boomboxing, available on iTunes, was released in 2019, its first in 19 years. And he has some thoughts on aging gracefully.
“I can still get up. I feel dynamic. I feel like I can do anything,” he says. “But if I wake up and start having all these negative thoughts in my head, my day will be horrible. So my goal is to get up, look in the mirror and say, ‘OK, Billy, you have to… change my mind, change my attitude. Because I know that if I want to have a good day, it won’t come by itself. It’s a choice I have to make.”
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