Ten Questions with Billy Blanks
Billy Blanks was born the fourth of fifteen children to a hard working but poor African-American couple in Erie PA, Isaac and Maybeline Blanks.
Billy Blanks (Photo courtesy of Toyota Motorsports)
Despite dyslexia which would impede his learning, poverty, an anomaly in his hip joints which would impair his movement, a clumsiness which would earn him the taunts of his siblings and cause his coaches to think he would never amount to much, Billy went on to become the dominant martial artist of the 80's, a world renowned star of martial arts films and the top physical trainer in the country.
Billy's domination of the sport of karate was virtually complete: After winning scores of local, state and national competitions, in 1975 he became the first Amateur Athletic Union Champion, a title he would win five times in all. A seventh degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, the dominant Korean form of karate, Billy holds black belts in five other forms of martial arts. A seven time world karate champion, he captained the U.S. Karate team and won 36 gold medals in international competition. Billy also captained the 1980 U.S. Olympic Karate team. He was Nationally ranked by Karate Illustrated from 1982 through 1989 and has been in the Karate Hall of Fame since 1982. Billy even won the 1984 Massachusetts Golden Gloves champion in the light-heavy weight class and Tri-State Golden Gloves Champion of Champions.
While training in his home, Billy began to combine dance music with his Tae Kwon Do moves which evolved into Tae-Bo. Billy soon saw what Tae-Bo did for himself and his family, so in 1989 he opened the Billy Blanks World Training Center in Sherman oaks, CA. Word of mouth brought the early clients, but when singer-dancer Paula Abdul came through the door and quickly showed the dramatic benefits of Tae-Bo, the business took off. Today, Rebecca de Mornay, Jack Scalia, Connie Selleca, Farrah Fawcett, Ryan O'Neal, Sinbad, Valerie Bertinelli, Lisa Rinna, Justine Batemen, Shannon Tweed, Goldie Hawn, Lela Rochon, Neve Campbell, Gail O'Grady, Emmanuel Lewis, Rae Dawn Chong, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Pamela Anderson, and Bruce Jenner could be counted among those Tae-Bo and Billy Blanks helped get and keep in shape.
Billy is married to his high school sweetheart, Gayle, and they have two children, Shellie and Billy Jr..
Blanks came to Long Beach, California, to race in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in a 10-lap sprint to raise money for charity. SportsHollywood caught up with Billy at the celebrity practice at Willow Springs raceway in California on March 10, and asked a few questions.
SportsHollywood: How'd you get involved in this race?
Blanks misunderstands when ER's Eric Palladino tells him to "punch it." (Photo courtesy of Toyota Motorsports)
BLANKS: They called and asked if I'd liked to be involved, I said it would be a blessing, because I have two cars, a Viper, and a Diablo (Lambougini) and I never drive them. I'd like to be able to drive them. When we came out here (to Willow Springs) they taught us what a car can do. I went to school and drivers education and they taught us how to drive on the street, but to come here and really get an education on what a car can do, it's awesome.
SportsHollywood: After this is over do you plan to continue Pro-Am racing?
BLANKS: Yes! I'm hooked.
SportsHollywood: Are you a race fan in general, or is this your first exposure to it?
BLANKS: We sponsor an Indy car, and we took 2nd place at the Indianapolis 500 last year. I always wanted to be a race car driver.
SportsHollywood: What was your first experience with a performance car?
BLANKS: I had a '69 Roadrunner that I rebuilt, but I didn't know how to use it back then. Now I know -- (Laughing) I was a fool....
SportsHollywood: Have you scared yourself out there yet?
BLANKS: No. I mean, they taught us to take it slow here. I'm learning the technical stuff, get the technique down, and I'll add speed later. I can always do speed...
SportsHollywood: Once you get your technique do you still worry about the other guys?
BLANKS: No. They teach you to only worry about yourself. You're the only driver you can control, and it's up to you to avoid them.
SportsHollywood: Who's your favorite driver?
BLANKS: Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty... there's so many people. I love them. People don't understand what goes on behind racing. You can't just sit in front of a TV and watch it. You've got to do it.
SportsHollywood: What do you admire about them?
Photo courtesy of Toyota Motorsports
BLANKS: They can stay so calm doing 200 miles per hour. They're so focused and centered. People don't understand how hard it is. You need to be strong to drive well. That's the best thing I've learned in training for this race.
SportsHollywood: What's the fastest you've ever driven outside of a race?
BLANKS: (Laughs, then finally spills) Well, I own a Viper, every once in a while I'll step on that pedal and do a hundred and ten or so...
SportsHollywood: Which is a bigger dream-come-true: Becoming a famous celebrity or being able to drive over 20 mph on a street in Southern California?
BLANKS: It's truly a blessing to be known by the public. I'm thankful that I've been put in a position to be recognized, and to be able to help people. To me that's awesome!
Interview by Dan Mahin and Jeff Hause
Billy Blanks: Tae Bo Creator
Movies: The Last Boy Scout, Blood Fist, Lion Heart, Talons of the Eagle, Back in Action, Stand Alone, King of the Kick Boxers, Showdown, TC 2000, Expect No Mercy, Tough and Deadly, Kiss the Girls, Balance of Power, Assault on Devil's Island, Mardi Gras Moon
TV: Suddenly Susan, Soldier of Fortune, Shadow Warriors, Spencer For Hire, Melrose Place
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