Although you may not have heard of Billy Blanks, chances are youâ€™ve heard of the martial art he created and mass marketed worldwide. Tae Bo, a hybrid of Tae Kwon Do and Boxing, was the work-out hype of the 90s, and, despite its falloff in popularity since, has sold over 75 million units in VHS and DVD. Blanks, however, is not only the creator of Tae Bo. He is a fitness guru, martial artist, actor, and even the inspiration for the Street Fighter character Dee Jay. Out of the all seeing public eye for a minute, Blanks is back with a new DVD, and he is once again ready for the spotlight.
“If you allow me to be your guide, I will get you in shape.”
Format: Remember when your name and Tae Bo was a cultural anecdote, either the channels aren’t coming in like they used to or Billy Blanks isn’t in the public eye as much, whatever the case may be, what is Billy Blanks up to these days?
Billy Blanks: I just created a new workout program called Boot Camp Elite, which incorporates Tae Bo and using rubber bands for resistance training. In life, I primarily focus on helping people. In terms of acting, I have had a few movie offers. Hopefully by the summer I will know what is going on with that.
Format: Did you see Little Miss Sunshine?
Billy Blanks: Yes.
Format: In Little Miss Sunshine, Greg Kinnear’s character is trying to get his nine-step Refuse to Lose motivational tapes off the ground. How do people market exercise videos?
Billy Blanks: I have always wanted to help people. When I was a kid, I always used to feed the homeless. When I became good at martial arts, I wanted to become a teacher to help people. I knew that I could help people do what they thought they couldn’t. One of the most important things is to start first from the heart. I got people to trust me and then through that it became a product. It started in a basement and evolved. Sure, celebrities are good to have on the tape, but what made it work, was people saw real people doing it and saw real results and essentially they invited me into their house to teach them.
Format: You built a brand that became known worldwide before it was the cool thing to do. Was there a day where you decided that you need to establish yourself in the martial arts exercise industry?
Billy Blanks: I wanted to create a cardio martial arts workout system for women. Even though I was a national martial arts champion, my cardio fitness was not where it needed to be. I spent years working on my cardio fitness. I started doing calisthenics to music. I showed my wife what I was doing and she was like, â€˜You need to teach this to women.â€™ It started off in my studio with people lining up outside. I then got an offer to do my video. People saw I was speaking from my heart and not filling their heads with lies. I told people that they have the power to make a choice to get in shape. I didn’t say it was only going take two minutes. If you have the will there is a way. If you allow me to be your guide, I will get you in shape. My wife and I sought out someone to do the video and the rest is history. I am now branching out again and am in the midst of developing my own brand of music so they can hear positive messages and inspiration while working out.
Format: After you reached your public awareness peak, did you make a conscious effort to cut back on the promotions and focus on the loyal followers you had picked up?
Billy Blanks: There are seasons for everything. When I am not on TV, I am traveling around the country and introducing people to the live workout. When I am not on TV, I am creating. People need to be rejuvenated. Tae Bo is all about being rejuvenated. I am always creating new ways to get in shape, otherwise, you disappear. My involvement with real people is very important. When you start to involve everyday people in the workout, people see the real effects of the workout.
“Sure, celebrities are good to have on the tape, but what made it work, was people saw real people doing it and saw real results and essentially they invited me into their house to teach them.”
Format: You opened a studio in LA in the `80s and by the late `90s Tae Bo was a household name across the country. Things that buzz in LA don’t always translate so well to the rest of the country, what were some key factors that allowed you make that jump?
Billy Blanks: It was a hip thing to do â€“ it’s martial arts, it’s dance, it’s calisthenics. People would show up at 5:00 a.m. with blankets waiting to get in. It started their day off right. It then grew to be more than hip, and it sort of became a lifestyle. I used to play pop music, hip-hop, country; whatever was hot at the time. Since I have evolved, I then saw an opportunity to start making my own music about Tae Bo, about life, about problems people have while also motivating them. I have a recording studio in my house and sometimes had guest DJs at my old studio. The new one opens in three months in Thousand Oaks, California. Back in the day, I would blend the music myself.
Format: Inquiring minds want to know, how many units of Tae Bo videos and DVDs have you moved?
Billy Blanks: The first company I worked with did over $1-billion selling 76 million units. They went out of business, though.
Format: A company that did $1-billion in revenue went out of business, how did that happen?
Billy Blanks: I parted ways with them. But, the new company I work with, over the last five years, has moved ten million units.
“The first company I worked with did over $1-billion selling 76 million units. They went out of business, though.”
Format: And do they do platinum plaques in your business?
Billy Blanks: Yeah, I have some platinum and gold videotapes. I got some awards for best infomercial and best star of infomercial. My Tae Bo video is the number two best selling video behind Titanic.
Format: Do you have a trophy room like they show on MTV Cribs?
Billy Blanks: Yeah, I have a trophy room.
Format: What do you wear when you work out?
Billy Blanks: My wife designs my clothes. Billy’s Wear. It’s like, the cool surfer shorts, you know, the baggy shorts with the muscle shirt â€“ a lot of colorful stuff. The new workout I created is called Amped so I like it colorful. [For] the old Boot Camp one, I wore a lot of military clothes. In terms of shoes, I wear Puma to work out.
Format: What abut when you go out during the day and evening?
Billy Blanks: Sweat suits. Lots of Sean John, Rocawear and G-Unit. I wear Vans with sweats or shorts when I go to the grocery store.
Format: Do you collect anything?
Billy Blanks: I have some 13th century Italian furniture that I got in Italy when my wife was designing the house. I collect samurai warriors too. When you first walk in, that’s what you see. I also have them in my movie theater.
More Info: http://www.billyblanks.com/