He was 17 years old, taking part in a competition in Columbus, Ohio, when he was asked to be a part of the filming of an infomercial for a new fitness program. Eric Kovaleski, having done martial arts since the age of three, readily agreed and ended up spending the whole taping smack-dab next to the instructor – promoting a little fitness program you might know, Tae Bo, kicking and punching his way through while standing next to another name you may recognize: Billy Blanks.
“It was incredible. I mean, here I am at a place with 15-20,000 people and he comes up to me and asks me to be in the video,” Kovaleski, owner of Master Kovaleski’s Karate USA in Dickson City, said. “I was right alongside him the entire time. He’s truly amazing.”
At the time the video aired, Kovaleski said his school had around 40 karate students and 20 women that did kickboxing. Once Tae Bo hit the mainstream, the kickboxing number skyrocketed to over 300.
“Honestly, I owe a lot of what I have through martial arts to Grand Master Billy Blanks,” Kovaleski said.
His relationship with the fitness guru is now coming full circle, as Blanks will be on hand at Kovaleski’s Karate for two seminars this weekend, pairing the friends up yet again to spread their knowledge of martial arts to those interested.
Blanks’ Tae Bo program, which touts a combination of Tae Kwon Do, boxing, and aerobics, has sold over 100 million copies to date.
Blanks, who grew up in the town of Erie, overcame childhood problems with dyslexia and an anomaly in hip joints that impaired movement and went on to begin karate at the age of 11. A driven man, a trait that has carried through his entire life, he has since earned a seventh-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and black belts in five other forms of martial arts. He became a seven-time world karate champion and captain of the U.S. karate team, won 36 gold medals in international competitions, and earned a spot in the Karate Hall of Fame in 1982.
THE WEEKENDER: The road to the Billy Blanks we see now was not an easy one. Where did you draw motivation from to not let the obstacles you came upon get you down?
BILLY BLANKS: My motivation came from observing my father, who couldn’t read or write, as I was growing up. It motivated me to achieve my goals. Martial arts taught me I could overcome anything in my life and be successful.
W: Tae Bo still remains wildly popular. How did the concept for it come to be?
BB: In 1975, I used it as an exercise tool to get myself in shape. I introduced it to my former wife and daughter, who loved it, and they suggested women everywhere would love it.
W: What sets Tae Bo apart from other fitness programs out there?
BB: Being the creator, I have the foundation and I am the mold. They copy what they think it is. Tae Bo is the foundation that set the pace, that changed the whole fitness world. Tae Bo is the original.
W: How do you keep your own workouts fresh and fun?
BB: I travel so much and teach all different types of people; I go into the room and read the people. I then decide how the workout is going to be. Different people make it different.
W: You went from a competitor to now being a teacher of many skills. What was that transition like? What are the benefits of doing such a thing?
BB: Competition is the same as teaching. Competing against self to be the best I can be, becoming a wiser, craftier, and better athlete. I thrive on how much I can teach and help people be the best they can be.
W: What advice would you give to someone who is trying to take the initial step to getting fit and taking care of themselves?
BB: Realize first, “What do you need to get into shape?” The mind and will should come first, then the body follows. Believe you can overcome any obstacles. Build self-confidence.
W: What projects are you currently working on?
BB: I’m developing a new workout DVD and music. Enhancing Tae Bo and getting it more out there.
W: What can attendees to your seminars at Master Kovaleski’s Karate look forward to learning?
BB: They will have a good time while increasing their martial arts capabilities and knowledge learning from a great instructor like Master Kovaleski. Tae Bo is not just an exercise for everyday people; it is a supplement for martial arts people as well. This is a great venture, and we’re going to have a good time.