Billy Blanks Interview
Kickin’ It with Tae Bo Creator Billy Blanks
His secret to defeating the odds
By Shamerra T. Brown
Long before he was a seven-time karate world champion, Billy Blanks was knocking out
personal odds left and right. Actually, to say that he defeats odds is an understatement.
According to the facts early in his life, Billy has worked out to be a modern-day wonder.
Struggling with dyslexia and problems in his leg muscles that made him clumsy, would
have made it nearly impossible for him to become the
world’s top fitness leader. But God. (Need proof? Sales for his high-energy Tae Bo
workout have exceeded $500 million since launching in 1988!)
Growing up with 14 siblings in poverty-stricken Erie, Pa., would discourage the average
Joe from pursuing a rich, purpose-filled life. But looking beyond the mean streets he
faced every day, Billy saw no limits. After being ridiculed for his reading, speaking and
physical challenges, he gathered the strength from God to start taking karate classes as
a teen. Several championships, motivational speeches, and Tae Bo students later, Billy
is serving in his call of God and silencing all naysayers.
When he created Tae Bo, he wanted a total body workout that would combine
kickboxing, aerobics and dance — and boy did it catch on! Billy has garnered a
worldwide following (including a “who’s who” of famous clients) and uses every
opportunity he can to spread the Good News. He also gives back to his community
through his charitable organization, travels overseas to work with U.S. troops, and hosts
several training opportunities for youth.
Find out how a little self-motivation and whole lot of the Almighty’s power can take you
exceedingly beyond what you could ask or think.
Shamerra T. Brown: When did you know you were called by God to be a fitness coach
to the world? What was that moment like?
Billy Blanks: I think I was called as a kid. God gave me the chance to understand the
body when I was a child. I was called dumb. Having a learning disorder and being shy,
people wrote me off as being retarded. So I felt the Spirit inside me tell me that in order
for me to be able to deal with people in the world I was going to have to get my physical
body in shape, [using] my spiritual part. I got into a karate program and when I saw
myself getting better in karate, that gave me power. I said no matter what people said
about me, I could go where I needed to go. At 16 years old, I got the chance to make the
U.S. karate team and compete for my country. … As I was retiring, God put in my heart
to create an exercise that would give women the chance to learn self-defense and get in
shape at the same time. My wife and my daughter were my
Shamerra: How did you push yourself to excel, despite the challenges you were having
with people saying that you were dumb? How did you silence those voices and press
forward? That’s something that negatively affects many kids into adulthood.
Billy: When you’re sitting in the room with kids in wheelchairs and kids who couldn’t
hold their heads up … I saw something that made their body move. So to me, it
wasn’t about the outside, it was about what was inside that made them move their
bodies. That gave me the understanding that if I got my inside together, then my outside
would follow, no matter what people said.
Shamerra: What’s your daily health regimen for diet and exercise? What does
“Mr. Tae Bo” do?
Billy: If you get yourself into an exercising program and you start to feel good on the
inside, sooner or later you’ll start to pull away from bad foods. You feel good about
yourself because you’re getting up and doing things, and you begin to say, “I’m not going
to eat that anymore …” In my bloodline we have diabetes and as a child my mother used
to cook all kinds of fried foods, and I knew that if I would continue to eat that, I probably
would have ended up with sugar diabetes. I made sure that I ate properly and stayed in
good shape, [while] exercising my heart. It’s a blessing you know, I’m 52 years old and I
feel like I could do what I did when I was 17.
Shamerra: Oh the unhealthy fried foods! So when did you begin making personal
changes, was it when you started with karate?
Billy: I started getting into the exercising programs, then it started to make me feel
good. When I would eat the [bad] food, it made me feel sluggish so I had to start eating
foods that were going to make me feel like I had fuel in my tank. Every once in a while, I
eat fried chicken, but it’s not something that I eat every day … as long as I take care of
my body. Before my mom passed away, I started putting her on the treadmill, teaching
her how to work out and she started to feel better …
Shamerra: Would you say that you’re where you want to be physically?
Billy: When I say that, I’m putting limitations on myself. I can say that whatever God has
in store for me, I’m reaching out to go get it. Who would ever think I’d be doing the things
I’m doing now? So I keep my heart open and ears receptive to where God is leading me.
Shamerra: So in that light, what are your goals now?
Billy: Well, my goals now, I love saving lives. I love creating programs that people can
use to get themselves in good spiritual shape. God is working with me now to create
spiritual and physical fitness. Not from a point where a lot of people are working, really
“trying” to do it. But I know that God has called me to do this, because if it weren’t for
God, I know that Tae Bo would have been gone a long time ago. It’s been No. 1 in the
world for 10 years. If it were about Billy Blanks, Tae Bo would have been gone. But I
know it’s about the Source. God gives me the power to be able to do that. And not only
that, there’s people out there who can kick better than me, they have better bodies than I
have, but the only thing that they don’t have is the Light walking with them. Jesus Christ
is with me 24/7 so when you talk to me about physical fitness, I’m going to say that to
Shamerra: Well, since you’ve gone there, let us jump to the spiritual discussion. How
long have you been a Christian?
Billy: Well I grew up in the church, but I never knew how to apply it to my life. Not until I
met Pastor Fredrick K.C. Price (Crenshaw Christian Center in Los Angeles). I’ve been
around a lot of pastors, but when I look at Pastor Price, he doesn’t compromise the
Word. He tells you what the Word says to do and if you do it, you’ll get these results,
and if you don’t do it, you’ll get the opposite results. When he showed me … being in a
karate program showed me discipline and focus, [Pastor Price] says that the Bible says
in order for you to do what God wants you to do, it’s going to take your mind and will to
be able to do it … if you don’t do that, then the Word can’t do it. So I kind of identified
with that, and I said man, I want to use that in my life. So that’s when I gave my life to
Christ 15, years ago.
Shamerra: Talk about how you see physical fitness and holistic well-being as it is
based spiritual on principles.
Billy: Let me ask you this question …whose word do you believe the most?
Shamerra: The Lord’s.
Billy: So let me ask you this, whose word do you know the most?
Shamerra: I hope the Lord’s.
Billy: Whose word do you “know” the most?
Shamerra: Oh, mine.
Billy: Right, so when it comes down to it, whose word are you going to use the most?
Shamerra: My words.
Billy: When I say that, this is how I bring physical fitness to people, because I think
when people see it from this standpoint, they see it as spiritual warfare. So, say this,
“I have to get my body in shape.”
Shamerra: I have to get my body in shape.
Billy: What does that mean to you?
Shamerra: It means that I have to do it.
Billy: So you’re giving yourself a commandment, right? Now, put it in words that you
Shamerra: Well, first I would ask God to help me.
Billy: God can’t [help you] do anything unless you have the desire to do it. So say it
Shamerra: I [pause] have to get my body in shape.
Billy: Now what did you just do? You made a separation of who you are. You’re saying,
“I’ve got to get my body in shape.” That goes to show you that you are a spirit, you are a
soul, and you’re a body. That’s the fight. In order for you to get people to understand this
is a spiritual warfare thing, they have to see that there are three parts. And so when I say
that “I have to get my body in shape,” I’m showing you that “I” am saying that my body
needs to get in shape ...
Shamerra: Well that was thought provoking! Would you say you’re where you want to
Billy: I’m moving up the infrastructure that God has built for me, so there are other
places to go. I can never say I’m where I want to be ’cause God is always putting
something in front of me.
Shamerra: That’s great, with all you’ve accomplished, you can still say that. I read
about how martial arts had given you a false sense of pride … talk about how you
transformed that to reflect who you are in Christ.
Billy: When I look at everything I’ve done with martial arts, it’s all faith-based principles.
Martial arts has tangible faith to it. … I understand God’s word never changes, so if I can
base my life on the Word that never changes, how much better would I be? If I got to
where I am based on a changing word, how much better would I be on a Word that never
changes? So I look at martial arts as a guidance to what God has in store for me. It gave
me discipline to understand when the word comes to me, how to take the word and apply
it to my life. But I don’t use the Eastern philosophy to get me where I need to go. I’ve
read and I understand [other religions], but I see that they take principles from the Bible.
Most don’t want to walk fully as God tells them to walk. They take principles from the
word of God and make it a self thing. They say,
“’I’ tell you to do this, and ‘I’ tell you to do that.” And [in my classes now] I’m not going to
say that. I say, “This is what God has in store for all of us, this is what He wants us to
do.” Even in my karate class, I’m teaching Tae Kwon Do. … Yeah, I have a Korean
instructor, but my Korean instructor knows who Jesus Christ is, too.
Shamerra: Was it difficult for you to give up competition and championships in martial
arts, to become a fitness expert and be on the teaching circuit?
Billy: No, when it was time for me to move on from fighting, I was ready to do what God
had in store for me to do. I went into the movie industry, then when I had the chance to
do that God said, “Listen, now I want you to start helping people get themselves in
shape.” Karate and the movie industry gave me a platform … now people will listen to
me. Being a seven-time world champion and being in movies, people will be more willing
to listen. So it opens up the door for me to teach. With me doing Tae Bo, I have to be
able to have something that this physical world loves to do; so that opens up the door,
when people ask me about my life, to talk about my faith.
Shamerra: How do you interact with clients and students who may be accepting of what
you do, but not in Whom you believe?
Billy: I look at how Jesus got His point across, He spoke in parables. He told stories
that people could grab hold of. They wanted to know more and so all of a sudden, He
started telling them about the Word. … I just came back from Japan, and most of the
people there are Buddhists, but God opened up the door for me to speak to them about
Christianity … and it was through parables. With parables, you give people a chance to
give their lives to Christ. I can’t go over there saying, “You’re going to hell!” I have to be
able to talk to them first and give them some information. Once you give them the
information, then hit them hard with something to think about. Then I’ll ask if I can read
them some Scriptures and they’re like, “Yeah.” I believe God has given me a way to get
in. Where He has put me, preachers can’t go into that arena because people will shut
down. In the physical fitness arena, I’ve been to Germany, Bosnia, Iraq and to be able to
go to those different countries and speak the Word is a blessing. And it’s through what I
do, Tae Bo, boot camp …
Shamerra: Have you actually helped to lead people to Christ, like one-on-one?
Billy: I’ve helped to lead thousands to Christ. Every time I give an event, at the end, I’ll
ask people if they want to receive the Word. People will come to me at the end and say,
“The class was good, but what you said at the end was most important.” People have
told me they opened up their Bibles again and renewed their faith. Tae Bo is just a
Shamerra: Well, not that you haven’t said anything about Him to the world, but what
else do you want to say about Jesus?
Billy: Jesus Christ came forth and said He is the way, the truth and the life. Those three
things are powerful. You look at your life, you have to know who you are, life; and then
you have to be led by the truth; and then you have to have a way to do it. So I look at
Jesus as the Word, and the Word is the most powerful thing in the world. … God’s word
is what we believe the most, but our words are what we know the most. Well, why don’t
we get a chance to know God’s word the most? Not just believe it, but know it. That’s
what happens to a lot of Christians, we believe God’s word the most, but we know our
words the most. So when it comes down to it, we resort to using what we know, our
Shamerra: So we should get into the word of God more, in order to speak more of the
Billy: Yeah, I think we should get into the word of God more and make what comes out
of our mouths be the word of God. Because when a thought, idea or principle comes to
your mind, you have to be able to discern it and know how to fight it. And those things
come every day. I don’t care who you are, or how high you think you are up in the Word,
there’s always going to be thoughts, ideas and suggestions that will pop up in your head.
And if you don’t have anything to kick it out, it’s going to win.
Shamerra: What Scripture is relevant for you now?
Billy: Well, I was just reading today Psalm 18. It shows you everything that God has in
store for you, what He’s done for you, what you can have, and what He will do ... all we
have to do is have endurance and patience. That’s where a lot of our problems are.
Shamerra: You’re absolutely right. What would you say to someone who is challenged
with struggles of their own will and inner voice, to make that initial step to working out
and caring for themselves?
Billy: First thing would be to fill yourself with high-octane words in your life. If you put low-
octane gas in your car, it’s going to run bad. So, whose word is more high octane?
God’s. So start exchanging your words for God’s words and see what happens in your
life. And stop “trying” to do things. Don’t try to do anything, do it.
Shamerra: I like the fact that your principles and your personal convictions about
wellness can apply to people who may never read your books or work out Tae Bo-style
… What gives you that passion to care about every one?
Billy: God so loved the world … the Bible doesn’t say God so loved Christians, because
we weren’t Christians at the time [that He gave us Jesus]. That’s the way God has given
me a way to speak to people, I don’t turn people off. I have about 70 percent Jewish
people in my studio, so when I bring the Bible out, I talk to them and ask if I can read the
Bible to them … next thing you know, people have turned from Judaism to Christianity.
Not just because of my walk, but my daughter’s walk, my
wife’s walk, our employees. We all go to the same church, so [our students and clients]
say, “Hey take me to that church, I want to learn some of that stuff.” And I always tell
people, God can’t force you do anything you don’t want to do. Satan can’t make you do
anything you don’t want to do either. You’ve got to make a decision.
Shamerra: That’s the truth. Tell me about your new workout system, AMPED. How is it
different from Tae Bo?
Billy: Well my new AMPED system is like the Amplified Bible. The Amplified Bible gives
you more enlightenment to understanding how to get yourself in good shape [spiritually].
So that’s what Tae Bo AMPED is. Now it’s better, amplified means to make better.
I created an Amplified Bar that can help people learn how to punch and make the
movements better. It makes everything they do better because they reach down into their
core and really start working out from the core up, instead of just individualizing each
body part. They can do it all together. It’s a fun workout, a weight-bearing workout, it’s a
cardio-blast workout. It has all kinds of things added to it — a nutrition book, a
scheduling notebook, the Amplified Bar, five DVDs, vitamins, and a newsletter. It’s
available in September.
Shamerra: Most people know that it’s important to exercise, but talk to us about why
it’s important. Really, what are the key benefits?
Billy: Exercise is very important, because it gives you the opportunity to learn how to
communicate with your own body. Most people don’t know what their own bodies can do.
That’s why they don’t have the power that they can have. If you can learn how to
communicate with your own body, how much more authority would that give you?
Shamerra: What would be some easy workout steps for people to do? For those who
may find it difficult, for whatever reason, to move and keep up with the high-powered
Tae Bo workout?
Billy: The whole Tae Bo workout, you can do it sitting down in a chair. The whole
workout! You can do the jumping jacks, the kicks, and the punches sitting in a chair.
And all it does it build your self-confidence, all you need to do is be able to see in your
own eyes, that you have that authority ...
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