[thrive_headline_focus title=”Rise to Fame and the Development of Tae Bo ” orientation=”left”]
BB: Well from martial arts to teaching people physical fitness my goal was to be able to take my martial arts and Tae Kwon Do training when I retired from fighting as a black belt in the adult professional division, which I fought in ever since I was 16 years old…so when I retired I wanted to take what I was good at doing and put it together and create some exercises. I knew I was good with communicating with people but I was shy at the same time but karate opened up that door to being shy and showed me how to express myself within myself first, and then it gave me the confidence to talk to people.
I started working on exercises to music and one day I went into this hair salon I said “hey I have this new exercise [at the time it was called Karobics] — and I said I would like to be able to show you guys if you come up to my studio [which was on the third floor],” and the women they all said “sure.” So they all came up and I taught them how to do it and they asked if I could teach a couple days a week; and this was in Boston when this happened, and then I ended up moving to California a year later where I opened up a studio in my garage and I started developing Tae Bo more and more. I then gave it a meaning; “tae” comes from the word “taekwondo,” and in Korean “tae” means “leg” and because women have problems with their legs I said let me use “tae” to represent females and “bo” from “boxing” because guys have problems with their waist; so I called it “Tae Bo.”
Then I gave it meaning:
‘T’ stands for “Total”
‘A’ stands for “Awareness”
‘E’ stands for “Excellence”
‘B’ stands for “Body”
‘O’ stands for “Obedience”
BB: So yeah, it’s a program that I designed in my basement in the projects; that’s where Tae Bo came from – in the basement of the projects. The way it happened was I was trying to find a way to get myself in shape because I was the United States Champion in karate but cardiovascular wise, I was in bad shape and my ex-wife went and got the theme song from Rocky and I put the song on and I started working out [laughs]. So then I started working on it and adding stuff to it and then it came to pass and all of it started to come together and I just kept working on it.
I moved to California and started teaching out of my garage and I met Paul Abdul because she was having problems staying in shape, and one day I met her and I said “hey, I have this new exercise called Tae Bo, let me give you a workout,” and she allowed me to do that and then I got her shape, and then other people started coming to my studio, mothers who had just had babies started coming in and taking the classes. And see, it was never about losing weight, it was really about teaching people how to overcome obstacles within physical fitness and through that the byproduct was everybody started to get in shape.
My goal was to get people not to look at their body but look at what was going on inside their heart and through that it opened up a door and next thing you know my studio starts to become this place where everybody is showing up! It got to the point where people would line up around the block to get into the door and it just grew and grew and grew and grew and like I say again, it was the passion for wanting to help somebody because I wanted somebody to help me [as a child], so I said if I ever get the opportunity to help people I want to be able to reach out; and it was through communication and mind in my martial arts – I brought the physical and mental together and created this thing called “Tae Bo.”
It revolutionized the whole fitness world and it actually made people think about how people should work out on videos. Now when you look at it, I’ve been gone for like five years; I moved to Japan and I just got back, so over the five years I was gone now you see all these different things that look like Tae Bo, everybody’s taking it and creating their own system so to me it opened up doors for other trainers to come up with cardio programs — and I think Tae Bo has done a lot.
BFT: From the basement of the projects to prime time TV and infomercials – what was the journey like from the conception to becoming a global phenomenon?
BB: When I first came here to California and my class started to become pretty popular, this guy came into my studio; he was with one of the biggest video [production] companies in the business – he said “I want to take you to meet these people and get them to do a video with you”, so I went there and they looked at me and I said “hey, listen we don’t think that you would make it in the Midwest. And because I was a black man they said they “didn’t think that I could crossover to white housewives.” For me I said “well that’s what you think, but if it’s about the color my skin then I’m doing the wrong thing anyway, I’m trying to help people — that’s my goal and if you just see the color my skin as not going to be able to break through the TV to help people then that’s your problem,” so I just left and walked out of the place, I didn’t say anything I just went back to my studio and started teaching. Then one day I was teaching class and some guy from the Midwest – he was an old country bumpkin guy, he came into my studio and sat down in the corner and he watched me teach my class and after the class he walked over to me and he said “hey, can ask you a question?” and I said “yeah” and he said “do you think you can capture the same spirit that you have in this room, on video?” — and see I liked that because he didn’t say can you capture the exercise, he wanted to see the atmosphere come out on video so when people see it on video they would want to do it. I said “sure, I just need an opportunity,” and he said “okay” and he left.
After that I didn’t see him for like two weeks and then he came back with some other gentleman and they came and sat down and watched some classes for a whole week! After class they both approached me and they said “hey listen to us, we think we can put this on video for you, would you like to do that?” and I said “yeah, I been wanting to do it for a long time,” and he said “we want to take you to Ohio and let you see our video company to see what we do,” so they flew me to Ohio and when I got to Ohio he got out of the car and he took me into the garage and his video company was probably as big as half a car just sitting in the back of the garage in the corner — that’s what his video company was [laughs] and he said “if you want to do this we can do this,” and I said “sure;” but the guy didn’t have the money, so he put his house up for mortgage and got $50,000 for his house and we went back and shot the video.
There were a lot of obstacles being able to rehearse because they wanted me to go by script and I said “if I have to go by a script I can’t do the video,” [because it was hard for me to read at the time] and I said “that’s why I teach Tae Bo,” and he kept saying to me “you have to go by a script,” and I said “okay” so I took the script and I did my best to study it and when it came to the day of shooting [the video] I got out there and the director said action and I couldn’t do it…I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t memorize the lines because I had a problem with dyslexia and I said “I can’t do this,” and he said well we have to do it [using the script] otherwise we can’t do it and I said “okay” and I just kept trying and he said “cut!” — just go into the back and we’re going to talk this over,” so I went into the back and I forgot that I had my microphone on and I went back in there by myself and I just started praying…and the guy heard me. And when I came back he said “hey, listen do what your God wants you to do – just go out there and shoot the show,” and I went out there and did everything from the heart and those poor videos came out and they blessed a whole lot of people, those videos sold more videos than the movie Titanic!
I went into the back and I forgot that I had my microphone on and I went back in there by myself and I just started praying…and the guy heard me. And when I came back he said “hey, listen do what your God wants you to do – just go out there and shoot the show,” and I went out there and did everything from the heart
It made history; it did more than what the world thought it was going to do. I mean who would have ever thought that that it would sell 120 million videos?! The guy bought up so much television time he became one of the most popular sought after producers in the infomercial business, he actually changed the way people thought about infomercials.
Who would have ever thought that Tae Bo came out of the projects in the basement and now it’s in 103 countries in 30 different languages. Who would have ever thought that it would do what it did? And I always tell people — I have to say this because I say it and I’m telling the truth…if it wasn’t for God none of this would’ve ever happened; if Tae Bo was about Billy Blanks it would’ve been gone a long time ago, you know how exercise trends come and go. Tae Bo has been around for a long time and people still know Tae Bo, and I say this is about God because if it wasn’t, it would’ve been gone.
I tell people all the time because people ask me questions like “Billy, do you think I can move forward on my exercise program?” and I say “yeah, I think you can move forward but you have to believe what you’re doing and you have to know that what you’re doing is going to do what you want it to do, but if you don’t [believe] then it’s not to go anywhere”. I think that’s a hard thing for a lot of people because it was work, it didn’t come overnight and I tell people all the time, Tae Bo didn’t come overnight it came through 20 years of me punching and kicking and doing my best to work with people and get something going; and I was able to do that because I stay focused and I didn’t let people tell me that it wasn’t going to do what I knew it would do…and one day it changed peoples’ lives; so I always tell trainers who come out with exercise videos – just believe in what you’re doing and if you doing for the right reasons — see I didn’t do it to make money I did it to help people and because I did help people I got blessed in return. If you create a program just to make money then you’re doing it for the wrong reason but if you create a program to help people change their lives then in time you will be blessed.