Growing Up Billy: A Conversation with Father and Son, Billy Blanks and Billy Blanks Jr about Hard Work, Family and the Ultimate Goal
Both images are ingrained in our minds: Tae Bo icon Billy Blanks in his famous 1-2 punch pose and Dance It Out creator Billy Blanks Jr mid-air, a vision of athletic strength and elegance. For the first time in more than 20 years, father and son will perform together when they headline the 8th Annual Health, Wellness & Lifestyle Expo 2019, presented by WABC-TV with special thanks to Stamford Health, Exclusive Healthcare Partner. The event takes place September 14 and 15 on the Boardwalk at Harbor Point in Stamford. Health, wellness, and positive lifestyle role models, Blanks Sr and Blanks Jr, recently shared details with Natural Awakenings about their unique relationship and roads to both personal and professional success.
Your profession required you to travel extensively. How did you balance work with family time in those early years?
Billy Sr: I got married when I was 18 and I did not know how to be a father. I took a lot of my cues from my own parents. Learning how to separate work from family time was my biggest challenge. But I was so determined to get out of the ghetto, work was a priority.
Was there a desire to emulate your father during your younger years?
Billy Jr: While I liked karate, I always wanted to be my own person. I loved dancing and singing. I knew my life would include fitness since it was in my blood, but entertainment was my calling.
Did Tae Bo and martial arts help you bond with your kids?
Billy Sr: Yes, it was a great way for us to experience things as a family. We trained together, went to competitions together, and traveled together. It was a great learning time for all of us.
Growing up, did you ever wish your dad wasn’t famous?
Billy Jr: Never. It always made me proud. It’s so special when you meet people whose lives were changed for the better because of your dad. I also learned so much from my dad’s discipline, hard work, and drive. My dad had it all, lost it all, and then gained it all again. Fame is not perfection.
When did you first become aware of your father’s fame? How did it affect you?
Billy Jr: Before my dad was commercially famous, it was so cool to walk into a karate tournament knowing that he was always going to win. He was like Rocky—no one could beat him. As a teenager, I remember being happy for him because I knew he was fulfilling his dream and reaching his goals. We were around a lot of celebrities growing up, so that made me even more aware of the world he was in and the status he had.
But, as I got older, I would go to job interviews and get turned down because people would assume I didn’t need it because my dad was rich. I always made my own way, and there were times when I struggled financially. I remember losing a big Pepsi commercial gig because the casting director said the guy I was up against “needed the money more than I did.” I felt so defeated.
When did you first recognize Billy Jr’s talent?
Billy Sr: I started teaching him karate when he was 2 and I saw it right away. We even competed together in karate competitions all over the country from the time he was 5 years old until he was 12. He became a Junior Olympian, made the World Junior Karate Team, and landed a spot on the Billy Blanks Jr Tiger Force Team. There was no denying this kid’s talent.
What are some of the personal and professional father-son challenges you’ve experienced over the years?
Billy Sr: The use of the “Billy Blanks” name as a brand resulted in some challenging business issues between the two of us, when it was clear that Billy was well on his way to achieving great success. He even met that challenge with fierce determination: The “Billy Blanks” name was a reputable name, yet Billy established his own brand in the entertainment world, dancing and singing, and ultimately creating his own dance fitness program; he carved out his own niche in a world where I was the top fitness guru. This is part of what makes Billy so great. He saw that I never gave up, and now he doesn’t know how to give up. I respect his talent tremendously. He’s even directed some of my YouTube workout videos!
In 2008 your parents divorced after 33 years of marriage. What effect did that have on you and your relationship with your father?
Billy Jr: I was estranged from my family at the time and found out about it from TMZ. I was in shock at first. I felt bad for them; after all they had done to build this empire and their relationship—for it all to be tossed away. I was angry with him for his poor choices and for hurting my mom. It took time for me to forgive him and to open up to his new life.
Today, the personal and working relationship is strong. My dad made an appearance at the theater I ran, and I brought him in on my MoveTube Network project, which was awesome. We speak the same language, so when I direct him in videos, some things even go unsaid. He’s a pro and I respect him [for that]; and he respects me as a director and knows that I want him to look his best, which is really cool.
Which of your dad’s teachings do you bring to your relationship with your son Elijah, and how are you different as a father?
Billy Jr: I am very hard on my son—to never be lazy, to work hard, and to never give up. That’s the “Billy Blanks” mantra. I teach him to be his own person with no judgment. But my focus is making sure Elijah knows how much I love him—affection and sensitivity are what I offer him. I’m not afraid to be emotional in front of him.
You will be performing in Billy Jr’s home state, where he has established himself as an entrepreneur, performer, and fitness professional in his own right. How does it feel to see things come full-circle?
Billy Sr: It’s a blessing to see what he has established independently. And now I am given a chance, through the grace of God, to perform right alongside him. People will see that we are both gifted in our own ways. Working and growing up together, going through the things that we had to go through to make us better, and seeing each other from the inside out has been a gift. I love my son from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head.
You and your father will be headlining the 8th Annual Health, Wellness & Lifestyle Expo together. What does this collaboration mean to you, and what can attendees expect to see and learn from you and your father?
Billy Jr: I have done the event as the headliner for four years. When I signed on to be a producer of this year’s event, my first idea was to bring in my dad. I am proud of all he has accomplished, and I feel his status is legendary. You can expect a solo class from each of us and then one massive class we do together, which hasn’t been done in over 20 years. This full-circle moment will be an emotional one, that’s for sure.
The 8th Annual Health, Wellness & Lifestyle Expo takes place on September 14 and 15, 11am to 5pm, and is presented by WABC-TV with special thanks to Stamford Health, Exclusive Healthcare Partner. For more information, call 203-531-3047 or visit HWL-EXPOS.com. Location: Harbor Point Boardwalk, 1 Harbor Point Road, Stamford, CT. See ad, page 7.