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Navy Master Chief Charles Blanks, left, command master chief for Commander, Task Force 72 at Naval Air Facility Misawa, stands with his brother, Billy Blanks, outside the American Forces Network studio at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Billy Blanks, the creator of Tae-Bo, spent time with brother Tuesday, the first day of a five-day visit to five U.S. military bases in mainland Japan this week.
Navy Master Chief Charles Blanks, left, command master chief for Commander, Task Force 72 at Naval Air Facility Misawa, stands with his brother, Billy Blanks, outside the American Forces Network studio at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Billy Blanks, the creator of Tae-Bo, spent time with brother Tuesday, the first day of a five-day visit to five U.S. military bases in mainland Japan this week. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Navy Master Chief Charles Blanks has extra incentive to stay fit: He doesn’t want to be known as Billy’s “big” brother.

“He walks the walk and inspires me to do the same,” Charles said of his brother.

Command master chief for Commander, Task Force 72 at Naval Air Facility Misawa, Charles also is little brother to Billy Blanks, creator of Tae-Bo, a combination of boxing, calisthenics and cardiovascular exercise.

Billy trains Hollywood stars and professional athletes, has appeared in 18 movies and has sold gobs of workout videos since opening his first studio more than 20 years ago. But to Charles, he’s foremost his big brother.

“I know he’s the big guy in the sky but when I go to talk to him … we want to laugh and joke and do video games because I know he’s more relaxed when he’s around his family,” Charles said.

Billy’s 50; Charles, 48. After five months apart — that’s how long Charles has been at Misawa — they were back at it Tuesday, ribbing each other, about bicep size (Charles is U.S. Armed Forces weight-lifting champion two years running) and comedic ability.

Billy is bringing his Tae-Bo routine to five bases in mainland Japan this week as part of a tour sponsored by Armed Forces Entertainment, Navy Headquarters and other agencies.

His daily schedule starts with crack-of-dawn workouts with the troops. Charles joined one session Tuesday but admits he can’t do Tae-Bo like Billy, saying, “I don’t have the flex that he’s got.”

The brothers, two of 15 siblings, grew up in Erie, Pa. Billy said his brothers were better high-school athletes, excelling in football and basketball. Charles, one of the city’s top running backs, landed an Ohio University football scholarship but said he left to join the Navy because “I wasn’t doing well in school.”

He didn’t tell his mother until he came home on leave after boot camp.

“She thought I was going into the Vietnam War,” he said, and didn’t talk to him for a month.

As Charles climbed the Navy ranks, Billy made a name for himself in the fitness world.

Hampered by dyslexia, he was shy and uncoordinated, not a star athlete like his siblings. When a neighborhood youth center opened, Billy signed up for a karate class at age 12.

“I saw Bruce Lee on television,” he said. “I wanted to do the ‘Green Hornet.’ The discipline and focus that Bruce Lee has with his body, I was intrigued by that.”

His karate instructor bet him $5 he wouldn’t stick with it. He has “to this day … I’m a seventh-degree black belt in tae kwon do.”

The brothers have made a career out of motivating others.

Charles spent 10 of his 27 years in the Navy as a command physical fitness coordinator. He listens to what his brother says about fitness; “some of the stuff, I steal,” he jokes. He also routinely asks Billy to sign Tae-Bo workout videos for his sailors to encourage them to stay fit.

Billy said the military inspires him. Of Charles, he said, “Your mind and will — that’s what he talks about when he talks to his troops. To get in shape, you have to have a strong mind and will.”

For kicks

The schedule for Billy Blanks’ tour of mainland Japan U.S. military bases:

Naval Air Facility Atsugi: Ranger Gym: 4 p.m. Wednesday and 7 a.m. Thursday

Camp Fuji: Big Gun Gym: Thursday, time to be announced.

Yokosuka Naval Base: Fleet Gym: 4:30 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday

Yokota Air Base: Samurai Fitness Center: 5 p.m. Saturday

Military personnel and family members should check with their host Morale, Welfare and Recreation, Marine Corps Community Services or Air Force Services agency for sign-up requirements.

— Jennifer H. Svan

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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