Cynthia Rothrock is a great action star and an incredibly accomplished martial artist. She holds five Black Belts in various Far Eastern martial disciplines. These Arts include: Tang Soo Do (Korean), Tae Kwon Do (Korean), Eagle Claw (Chinese), Wu Shu (contemporary Chinese), and Northern Shaolin (classical Chinese). By 1982 Cynthia was one of the premier kata (forms) and weapon competitors in the United States. Competing in divisions that were not segregated by male-female categories, she literally captured every title in both open and closed karate competition. From 1981-1985 she was the undefeated World Karate Champion in both forms and weapon competition. She established a legacy of wins and accumulated hundreds of trophies for her martial arts prowess; a feat that is unparalleled even to this day! She is a consummate performer with Chinese weapons such as the Chinese Double Broad Swords, Staff, Chinese Nine-section Steel Whip Chain, Chinese Iron Fan, and an assortment of Okinawan Kobudo and Japanese Bugei Weapons. She is the perfect combination of skill and beauty.
With an infectious smile, Cynthia stormed onto the big screen in an array of foreign and domestic action-films that are as impressive as her martial arts and weapon talents. She starred in over 30 “action” films and/or video productions including Police Assassins (a.k.a.Yes, Madam), Shanghai Express, No Retreat, No Surrender, Magic Crystal, Above the Law (a.k.a. Righting Wrongs), Inspectors Wear Skirts, Blond Fury (a.k.a. Lady Reporter 1988), China O’Brien, Martial Law, Angel Of Fury, Prince of the Sun, Deadliest Art: Best Of The Martial Arts Films, Martial Law II (1990), Lady Dragon (1990), Tiger Claws I&II, Rage and Honor I&II, Lady Dragon II (1991), Undefeatable Irresistible Force (1993), Guardian Angel (1993). Fast Getaway I&II (1995), Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (Not Fade Away), Sworn To Justice, Checkmate, Night Vision, Eek The Cat, American Tigers, and Hostage (1997) to name a few. In this Legends and Legacies column, Cynthia Rothrock, the Queen of Martial Arts films, sits down with Frank Dux in an exclusive one-on-one interview for WorldWideDojo.com.
(FD) I feel privileged to sit down and talk with you today. I’m a huge fan of your films and your abilities as a martial artist. You made an imprint in my life, inspiring me to overcome my own obstacles. We can only imagine the obstacles you had to overcome to capture the hearts of film goers and to earn the recognition you earned in a field that was predominantly full of male ego and prejudices. I’ve learned that you’re a person who goes with the flow. You’re not a confrontational person, and yet if anybody could really bring it on in a confrontation, it’s you. So, what do you find is the source of your strength and have you ever used that strength in a confrontational situation?
(Cynthia Rothrock) I’ve had situations in my life when I did really bring it on! You know, you can only tolerate so much. When someone crosses the line a little too far, then I become like a little tiger.
(FD) Tell me about one of those times?
(Cynthia Rothrock) You want to hear about one of those times, huh?
FD Yes, share with us please.
(Cynthia Rothrock) OK! My daughter was little and we were getting on a plane and she was in this little car seat. I could see that the man sitting in front of her was going to press up against her feet when he put his seat back. So, I said to him, “Excuse me, but WHEN you put your seat back, I wasn’t even telling him NOT to put it back, WHEN you put your seat back, could you please be careful my little girls feet are up against the back of your seat. Well, he came back with an attitude, something like, “That’s her problem” I just about jumped over the seat at him.
(FD) How do you want people to remember Cynthia Rothrock?
(Cynthia Rothrock) One of the best things someone ever said to me, it was a producer, and he said, “I want you to be the role model for my daughter.” And, that really touched my heart, so I think if I could be remembered, it would be that I had influenced someone’s life in a very positive way. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.
(FD) I remember when I first learned about you, I was in the Philippines and I was in a movie theater at a showing of one of your films, China O’Brien it was standing room only! My question to you is, what do you think that you brought to the cinema that had that kind of effect on people?
(Cynthia Rothrock) I think, back then in the late eighties, early nineties, people weren’t used to seeing a Caucasian woman fight like that. What it was also, I think, is when I fought, it was realistic. I had people say to me, “oh, I want to stay in martial arts now because I think I can do it if you can do it.” I think it was just something they hadn’t seen. They were used to seeing Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris all the guys fighting, but not so much a woman, and not so much just fighting, but making it look real. You can tell the difference between someone doing movie-fighting and moves that are really going to work.
(FD) I recommend that people see your films because you’re doing 20 or 30 moves within a single shot. To me, that is a tremendous example of true raw talent and your ability as a martial artist. How do you think your film work has carried into your seminars and teaching?
(Cynthia Rothrock) Its interesting, because, before I did movies, I studied martial arts for a long while. I have been doing it since I was little. I used to go and watch the Kung Fu movies and the Jackie Chan movies and come home and try to do all those movements. Then, I was a form competitor, so I was used to doing many combinations, instead of just sparring one, two, three. When I went to Hong Kong, the Chinese choreography was a little bit different than the American. Americans say, “Well, you only need to hit him once or twice and he’s done, Right?” Which is true in self-defense, but over in Hong Kong it’s more for the theatrical value. You’re entertaining. You want to see fights, and you can’t get someone who had just studied for a short time to do those long fight sequences. It’s very easy to give someone a few movements and make them look good, but to do it continuously, that is harder. I think, just from my training, I was able to do that [what the director or the script needed]. After I did movies, and now that I do seminars, and even when I choreograph as I did in Charlie’s Angels, I think I still do a lot of combinations. When I get involved in a film now and I put together a series of moves, I now I will change it at the last minute. If you’re doing films you know that just because you’ve practiced a combination in a certain way, it’s not going to stay that way when the director sees it and says, “no, I don’t like this, let’s change it.” You have to be able to adapt and change. It’s as mental, as it is physically doing the action. You don’t have time to think about what move is coming next. You just have to organically do it.
(FD) So, you’re doing these movements, and we know your films weren’t the big budget Hollywood films where you could do 30 takes, so did you ever make a mistake and have to conceal it?
(Cynthia Rothrock) Let’s see, I made a lot of mistakes, especially when I was doing Hong Kong films, because they would give us so many moves. In one of them, a movie called YES MADAME that I did with Michelle Yeoh, we were doing this fight scene with all these swords and I turned around, didn’t block and the guy hit me in the nose with a sword. My nose swelled up, my eyes were red, and tears were coming down [my face], but I just continued the fight because that’s what you do. With a Hong Kong director you couldn’t stop or cut it yourself. You just had to keep going until they say cut and then, whatever went on you try to fix it. It was funny in that scene, because afterward the director comes over. Im trying to be tough. The tears are coming to my eyes, because when you get hit in the nose it hurts and the director says to me, “oh, your nose looks better now.”
(FD) A lot of people say there was a rivalry between you and Karen Shepard. How true or untrue is this?
(Cynthia Rothrock) I really respect Karen. Karen was around a lot longer than I was. She was around before me and then I came along after she had already competed for a couple of years. She was already number one. She was someone that I really looked up to, because she was a woman, and she was winning. I wanted to take that spot, but with grace. What ends up happening when you are in competition with someone, one person ends up not too happy. The first year I started competing, I took the number one title and, I think, Karen took number three. I was just a nobody when I came on the circuit. Nobody knew who I was until I beat Karen Shepard. Then everyone was asking, “who is this person who beat Karen?” I tried to be friendly, but when you are competing and someone comes and takes you off your top spot, you’re not going to go, “Hey, here’s my best friend.” Then, Karen went on to do movies before me. I was still competing and then we ended up doing a moving together, Righting Wrongs, in Hong Kong. At that point we really got to talk and become friends. That’s what we needed, not to think that there is a competition. Now, we’re really good friends.
(FD) That fight scene you did with Karen was one of the most memorable fight scenes I’ve ever seen. It influenced my work. I wondered if the competition between you was coming out on camera in that fight? Are they really trying to hit each other? Did you rehearse for that, or did it just occur?
(Cynthia Rothrock) Yes, we rehearsed quite a bit. It was good that there was competition between us, because it made the fight scene stronger. If I hit her hard, she hit me hard. It was a really good fight scene.
(FD) Would you do a film together today if you could?
(Cynthia Rothrock) Yes, definitely.
(FD) Are there any misconceptions about you that you want to clear up?
(Cynthia Rothrock) I can’t think of any. I haven’t heard any. If you’ve heard something, I can clear it up. I just love my life. I love my career. If I never do another film after today, I’m very happy with what I did. I’m proud of my work. I’m so pleased with the friendships that I’ve made. What better way to earn a living than by doing something that you absolutely love to do
(FD) After watching your films, I couldn’t understand why you never got into television. Do you feel that Hollywood missed the boat? Not just for yourself, but for other martial artists as well. During that era we had Kung Fu and other series, but we never saw the fight side like we saw in films.
(Cynthia Rothrock) Well, that’s something I wish had happened. I did a pilot for CBS called Irresistible Force, with Stacy Keach. It was suppose to be a TV series, but the timing t right because, at the time, violence on TV wasn’t allowed. The director was Kevin Hooks, a brilliant director would get notes from CBS saying, “No kicks to the head!” He would say, “but I’ve got this girl who can kick!” But, there was no blood, no this no that. It was bad timing. I think now, if we would have done it, it would have been so much better. I wish that series would have gone, because I really liked working with Stacy Keach. I thought it was a very clever idea for a TV series. I don’t know if that is ever going to happen, but it’s something I would LIKE to do. Another opportunity I had, I was going to star with Sylvestor Stallone in a film. It was called, THE EXECUTIONER. William Friedkin was supposed to direct it. I was shooting China O’Brien and I got a message when I was coming in one night, to call the director. I thought it was someone goofing around. The next day I called and I asked if William Friedkin was there. I thought someone was going to laugh, “Ahhhh Cynthia, we got you! You fell for it.” But it was him. They said they wanted me to come to L.A. I was in Utah shooting. Joel Silver was going to produce it. The guys who wrote Robocop were writing it. I was on cloud nine. People were saying, “Cynthia, you’re going to star with Sylvester Stallone.” They had a contract ready for three pictures. It was all so amazing. So, I went back to Utah then returned to L.A. for a production meeting and William Friedkin says, “Cynthia, if you get another job, do it.” So, I asked, “Is there a chance this might not go?” I was told that Stalone and Frekin could not agree on the script. Because they couldn’t agree, the movie fell apart. That was my second chance to get out of B pictures. One was IRRESISTIBLE FORCE and the other was THE EXECUTIONER. I really believe that things happen for a reason. Sometimes we just don’t know what it is, but I guess it wasn’t in the plan of my life to do that. It could be in the future.
(FD) So what DID happen after that, something you might see as a real positive direction that you might not have taken had you gotten those acting jobs?
(Cynthia Rothrock) What happened was that I went back to doing the movies that I was doing. If that would have happened, maybe I would not have had my daughter. She is the love of my life and more important than anything, any film I’ve ever done. You just never know. The path that I followed is the path that I should be on and there is always the future. Who knows what the future is going to bring?
(FD) What is the most favorite memory you have of your daughter?
(Cynthia Rothrock) My favorite memory is when I was in Atlantic City at Alan Goldberg’s event and I was getting an award. My daughter was about three and when I was gong up to pick up my award, she started crying. I was so embarrassed, but I took her with me and I’m talking on the microphone. She grabs the microphone out of my hand, at three, and starts singing Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer. The funny thing is, I’ve heard her sing Rudolf many times, but I’d never heard her sing the part, and you know Dasher and Dancer.. and she just sang the whole thing. The audience stood up, [giving her a] standing ovation. Alan sent her a check for $25. It was hysterical. She just grabbed the microphone and started singing, and today that’s what she wants to do. She wants to sing. She wants to do musical theater. It’s funny when people say, “Oh your child is little, and you don’t know what they’re going to do with their life.” But, sometimes you can tell. I knew that’s what she was going to do. I saw a little boy, only about 2 1/2 and he was batting a ball. He whipped that bat so hard and I said to myself, “He’s going to be a baseball player.” Some people have that natural talent and you know that’s what they’re going to do when they get older.
(FD) Do you think that you KNEW what you were going to do back when you were a little girl?
(Cynthia Rothrock) Actually, it’s a funny story. When I was little I used to watch these movies and would play-act them. I never really thought I’d get into movies and I never really though of martial arts, but I was very curious about doing things. I did music lessons, dance lessons, baton lessons. I did everything but I never stuck with it. All of a sudden, here I am at thirteen and I see my friends in karate suits practicing for their parents. I thought, I wanted to try that. I signed up for four months. Believe it or not, I didn’t like it. I was very intimidated because we were going back to a time when there weren’t that many women in classes. Here I am, a little girl. I don’t know how to punch. They want me to shout. I’m doing Pinon One, and I’m feeling like, “I can’t turn that way.” I was frustrated and wanted to quit. But, my mom said, “no, I signed you up for four months and you’re going to stick with it.” During that time, I was sitting on the floor and my instructor gave a speech and I thought he looked directly at me and he said, “If you’re not good, it’s because you don’t practice.” And, you know, I didn’t practice. So, I said to myself, “well, I have two more months. I’m going to practice.” I started practicing everyday. I got my orange belt and I entered a competition. At that time, all women, black belt, white belt, orange belts were together doing forms. I took second place against black belts. That made me think, I did practice and I got good. Maybe I could be the best in this sport. That became my goal. Then I started LOVING it. One of the things that martial arts taught me is, “you can’t give up.” Just because things are hard you can’t give up. If my mom didn’t say I had to stay with it for those four months, I would have quit. What would I be doing now? I wouldn’t be doing martial arts and my whole life revolves around martial arts now. That’s the best lesson in my life that I’ve learned, that it doesn’t matter how hard it is, you just keep at it. And, if you keep at it, you’re going to get better. I owe it all to my mom. Also, it took a turn, when I was going for my black belt in Tang Soo Do. We had these masters come in from Korea and they took a look at all of us and said, “It’s all crap. None of you can fight. So, for three weeks they fought us. They’d say something like, “do a spinning wheel kick” and they would sweep your foot out! They didn’t care if I was a girl or anything. I would go home bruised and I couldn’t even walk and my mom said, “you gotta quit. I don’t want you to go back to that.” I was so beat up and bruised. I told her, even though I was hurt, I knew from that point on if I fought any woman they were never going to hit me as hard as those Korean masters. From that point on I was never afraid to fight. It was good because they were hitting me so hard and my mom and dad were seeing me with bruises on my face. At that time we didn’t have safety equipment, so they were hitting with bare knuckles. It was back in the day when training was different. The feeling was, if you can’t take what they are giving you, then quit. “It wasn’t the money making thing that it is today. People were doing it as a hobby. If you couldn’t hang in there back then, the instructors didn’t want a weak student.
(FD) I’ve seen you do moves and kicks against guys and I watched them fold like chairs. It was obvious that there was real power in your kicks. What was the reaction when you would do that against some of your male counterparts? Were you discouraged or shunned because of your skill? If so, how did you overcome it?
(Cynthia Rothrock) Like you said before, I came up in a very chauvinistic period, being a woman in martial arts. Now, thank God we don’t have that. I kind of opened the doors for a lot of women. Especially back then, when I was teaching and had a school in Scranton, Pennsylvania. One time back then we were doing a demonstration at a Disco, right, and this guy came up and was saying, “Oh you can’t do anything, A girl teaching? I’m going to come to a school with a girl teaching?” I was a scrapper and tough and I did the old Hong Kong thing and said, “If you can beat my number one student then you can fight me.” Then we did the demonstration and afterward he brought a big bottle of champagne to our table and apologized and signed up for classes. I had people back then asking questions like, “Oh, you can wear lipstick when you do martial arts?” Yeah, you can. Same thing in competition.
(FD) How old were you when you opened your school?
(Cynthia Rothrock) I started teaching for my instructor when I was eighteen. I went to college for a bit. I went to Boston University, but I realized that what I really wanted to do was martial arts. I was going to be a physical therapist, but all I wanted to do was go back, open a school and do martial arts.
(FD) You followed what you wanted to do and became successful at it. It’s a great message for people to pursue what it is you really love and the rest will come.
(Cynthia Rothrock) You have to work hard at it, too. That’s the thing. A lot of people will say they want to do this or that, but they don’t put the effort into it. You can’t be lazy about it. You have to really keep that fire going and do what you need to do. Do your homework or whatever it is. Keep pushing and excelling in that way, then you will achieve your goal.
(FD) You know I got one other thing from you, and that is: avoid the negative influences of others. [People] wanted to you to stop and you didn’t.
(Cynthia Rothrock) I had to compete against the men in weapons. I’ve never competed in a weapons division that was just women. I always competed against the men and it was really hard, because I had to be so much better and stronger. [Sometimes there were comments like,] “Oh you were those little diamonds on your uniform” or “you have lace panties on.” It was hard, but I did it because I knew I could compete with those guys.
(FD) That is a misconception. At the time they were trying to take away from you out of jealousy and envy and their own insecurity. When did the public first hear about you and how?
(Cynthia Rothrock) I competed a lot on the East Coast. At that time there was Karate Illustrated and I was rated number one in my region. Then, they had a professional tournament at the Playboy Club in New Jersey. I went, and won, and that was when everybody was wondering “who is this girl? Who IS this girl?” Then I met the West Coast demonstration team people and they said, “You need to come to California.” So, I went out [to California] and went to a lot of the A rated tournaments. I took number one that year in Women’s Form.
(FD) You really are the Queen of Martial Arts. You reign with grace and provide a sense of order. When you leave this world, what would you want to be your legacy, in martial arts, as a person, and with your daughter? What is it that you really want to leave behind?
(Cynthia Rothrock) I’d like people to think that I was a positive influence in someone’s life, whether it’s through teaching the martial arts or verbally helping someone. [I want to be remembered] as someone who was there to help. I really believe that EVERYBODY should know martial arts. If I have been influential in getting people involved, people say to me that they didn’t think they could do martial arts, but they saw me doing it and thought, “if she can do it, then I can do it.” I think that’s a good thing, if people say that’s why they got started. Not only is martial arts the best exercise, but you never know when, one day, you might have to use it to defend yourself, to save your life or to save one of your loved ones. There is nothing more precious than that.
(FD) And, saving in other ways, giving people the ability to say “No” and to resist the negative influence, as we were talking about. I think your legacy, and you are overlooking it perhaps, is that you were the one who opened the door for women in martial arts. My image of your legacy is almost like a machete, cutting down the weeds, trailblazing for all these other women, and little girls who now have gotten involved. You go into a martial arts school today and it’s 50% girls.
(Cynthia Rothrock) Right, and they’d want to quit because there were no other girls. That’s how I was. It’s a different day. A funny story: I was on the cover of Karate Illustrated. It was one of the first times they had put a woman on the cover and I remember the editor, Raynardo Bardon and he said, “I’m fighting to get you on the cover because I’ve been told that women and minorities don’t sell.” So, they didn’t want to put me on the cover, but finally he talked them into it. Then, after I was on the cover he called me and said, “It sold out. The cover sold out.” I remember, I was at a competition and everybody goes down to the bar afterwards and you’re just kinda relaxing because the competition is over. One of the top competitor guys came up to me and asked,”How did you get on the cover? Did you sleep with the editor?” I said, “No. Is that how YOU got on?” It’s been a long road.
(FD) It’s kind of telling, with Google, if you do an image search and look at the covers of those magazines, you don’t see any women.
(Cynthia Rothrock) Especially back in the late eighties.
(FD) Do you think that women need a greater determination perhaps?
(Cynthia Rothrock) Maybe you;re right. Everybody has that inside them and you just have to bring it out. Recently, I was teaching this girl private lessons. She was really good and wanted to be in it, but inside she was holding everything back. On the outside, she was doing everything. I told her, “you can’t be intimidated. You have to get that warrior spirit out.” I think, no matter who it is, whether it’s a man, a woman, a child when you develop that inner strength and put it into your physical movement, nobody is going to say, “you’re not tough. You’re not strong.” No matter what physical ability you have, there is always going to be someone stronger than you. It’s just how it is. You obviously can’t take a little kid against a six foot guy, but the law of averages shows us that everybody can be so much stronger than they are. That’s what it is in martial arts. Not only is it learning that technique, but it’s developing that feeling. It’s almost like a killer instinct. I kind of equate martial arts to acting. When we’re out there in the gym and we’re practicing we are not really fighting. But, you need to mentally think that when you’re punching the bag you are REALLY punching. That’s why I was a form competitor and I was a champion, undefeated for over a thousand tournaments before I retired, it was because I FELT that. I had to look and FEEL as if I’m really hitting someone. There’s a difference between going through the movements and really feeling it. Not everybody could do that. You have to help [your students] along so that they can feel that. When they do, they say,”Wow, that was a good workout,” because they let it all out.
(FD) A lot of people don’t give themselves permission to feel. They stuff it all down. Yet, even a smile or gesture can change a person’s whole life. Another thing I love about you is that you are always bubbly. I’ve never seen you sad or angry, even when you’ve had the right to be. I’ve heard people say things to you that shocked me, yet you just let it go and smile and are gracious. How do you do that?
(Cynthia Rothrock) As I said before “You have to look at each situation, each one is different. You ask yourself, “what kind of person am I, and what kind of person is saying whatever they are saying.” People can tell what kind of person you are, even when you are NOT reacting. You can try to fake it, but eventually [the truth] will come out. If you’re a good person and have a good heart, it’s going to come out. I do get angry. You can ask my daughter. We’ve had a couple of really big fights. I do get angry. I do get sad. I lost my dog about a month ago and it killed me. I go through all the emotions, but I think I can control it and calm it down. I just try to be the best person I can be. Sometimes I’m not, but it’s always in my head. If I argue with someone, I’m the first one to apologize to make better, maybe not so much apologize, because I find that if I really argue with someone, I’m usually not wrong, but Ill make up. I don’t stay mad long, because life is too short. It’s better, you feel better and you’re healthier if you are happy rather than sad. I could be an angry person, but I really do feel that we are all blessed. You just have to realize what your blessings are. Everybody has them. And, if you don’t realize, then you feel like your life is crap, I’m jealous, and you know, I feel sorry for those people. They don’t have a good soul and they aren’t trying to be the best they can be. It’s so much more fun for me to be happy and smiling, rather than being crabby and miserable.
(FD) Is that what you did as a young child? Is that kind of your theme throughout your life and no one has been able to pierce the shell? I know there was a lot of jealousy, and people who have tried to hurt you, but it’s like water off a duck’s back.
(Cynthia Rothrock) I think so. I’ve had instances, when I was little, that were hard, but as you get older you learn.
(FD) Can you tell us about them?
(Cynthia Rothrock) When I was about fourteen and I had just moved to a new place across the street from a firehouse. At the firehouse, all these guys used to hang out. They would come over to my house and one day these girls came over. The girls were made because these guys were coming over to MY house. They would call me from outside and say, “If we see you outside, we’re going to slit your face with a razorblade. They were scaring me. I remember that I was just starting in martial arts. I didn’t really know anything but I came out of the house with all these girls standing there and one of them pushed me. I pushed her back then the phone rang. I yelled, “I gotta go answer the phone!” I ran in and locked the door and, oh my God! Back then I could choose to be afraid and stay in the house or I could learn martial arts and not be afraid and not let anyone intimidate me. I found out that once I did that [stood up for myself] they backed off. s the same thing in martial arts. Bullies prey on weakness. If you’re not weak, but tough and stand your ground then they’re going to go away. It’s the same with other people. If someone is trying to hurt [me], it’s their problem, not mine. There’s always going to be times in life when you wish you had something, a possession or ability that someone else has but we are all in control of our own life. It’s what we make of it. If you want to sit and complain that you don’t have any money or a job I ask, “Well, what are you DOING about it?” We all have our own destiny, and that’s to do something that’s going to make us happy, and not be lazy, but be strong.
(FD) Did you ever have to battle any kind of illness in your life or see a loved one that you had to be strong for?
(Cynthia Rothrock) Yeah, my dad died quite young. He died of a heart attack, unexpectedly. That was really hard for me. I had just moved out to California. For two years [after his death] people were asking, “How’s your dad?” I would just say, “Oh, he’s good.” I couldn’t even say he died. It was really a hard part of my life. That has been my toughest situation. Thank God I haven’t had anyone other than my dad, any really close people, get really sick. I’ve had many animals who have gotten sick, and I had to put them down, but not people.
(FD) How about your mom? Is she still with us?
(Cynthia Rothrock) Yes, my mom is good. She just turned 78. She looks great. It’s funny because now I’m trying to help her”when she says she’s too old, I say, “You’re NOT too old. Get to the gym. Stop hanging around with old people. She hangs around with 90 year olds. [My suggestions are] helping. She’s going to the gym. She does things. She gets out. I keep telling her, as people say, age is just a number. In my mind, I’m still a young kid. In that way, I’m helping her. So, she’s healthy.
(FD) I met this guy at a tournament who was in his seventies and I asked him why he was still competing at his age and he said, “I can’t stop. When I asked him why, he said, “Because, my dad would kick my ass, he’s over there.” And, he pointed to this guy who was in his nineties. This was at Jim Thomas’s tournament in Indiana. It was amazing to me because I was looking at four generations of black belts in a single family. It was almost like a religion for that family, a bond that held them together.
(Cynthia Rothrock) I’ve always tried to get my daughter to study. I’ve always had the vision that when I had a child they would start doing martial arts when they are one year old. She learns it. She studies, but her passion isn’t there. It’s somewhere else. I love the fact that that family all stayed in [martial arts], but my feeling is that it’s her life. I can’t make her live HER life how I want it to be. It has to be how she wants it.
(FD) That’s really a testament to how you are as a parent, as well as a person. I see a lot of very famous people and I think we see a different side because we can read each other better, because you live in this different bubble. Unless you are in it, people can’t understand. I watch [celebrities] try to force their kids to follow in their steps, and then wondering why their kids aren’t measuring up. However, you are allowing her to search for her own identity.
(Cynthia Rothrock) I am a little tough with her, because I always strive for excellence in everything I do, no matter what it is. I went to college for photography and I HAD to get an A. I always challenge myself to try and be the best I can be and my daughter might say, “Mom, I got a B+. That’s good enough.” My feeling is always, if you try a little harder you’ll get an A. I can see that people are watching me and I have to back off, but I can’t help myself. When I see her playing volleyball I’ll make a suggestion like, “you need to serve it this way” and she’ll say, “But, Mom you don’t know volleyball.” I immediately respond, “That’s true but I see what they are teaching you and I am a teacher.” I’m me and she knows that I’m going to tell her what I think. She also knows that when I tell her something, it’s the truth whether it good or bad. She knows that if she does something bad, I’ll tell her, but if she does something good and I tell her that, it is just as important. I know so much now, as a parent, that I think my mother didn’t know. I do so many things with my daughter that my mother never did [with me]. I can see that she has such a big head start in the game from when I was twelve. Knowing what I know now, I think I can make her path a little easier.
(FD) How did you get into film?
(Cynthia Rothrock) It was by accident. I was on the West Coast demonstration team and there was a Hong Kong company and they were looking for the new, Caucasian Bruce Lee. They called Ernie Reyes and they said, “Can you bring your guys down to audition?” and he said, “Well, what about the girls?” So they said, “Yeah, you can bring the girls, but we’re really looking for a guy.” So, I went down. It was at Heal Cho’s school. I did self-defense, forms, fighting and weapons and they said, “We’re going to sign the girl up instead of the guy.” I was going to Hong Kong to do a movie. After the first one I thought that would be it, one movie. I’d have this poster for my memories and then right away I got an offer by Samuel Hong to do a second one. After I did the second movie, that was my fifth year, and I wanted to retire from form competition. I was undefeated and that was my goal five years undefeated and then go out on top. It forced me to keep training. I would see people win and then relax. But if I won, I felt like, now I got to do more. I wanted to step my game up every time.
(FD) I do Death Touch. Everybody knows it from Bloodsport. I was just in Mexico and one of my students took regular picture frame glass, put it between two bricks. broke the bottom brick and left the top brick and glass in tact. It was just amazing to see that he was inspired to try something that no one had ever done. I didn’t teach it to him.
(Cynthia Rothrock) But, you did actually, in a way, because you were the teacher. I think that’s the best teacher. When we were training there was all [these] secret techniques and nobody wanted to teach you the secret techniques. I remember I had a partner at my school and I wanted to teach these forms and he said, “noooo, they’re the secret techniques. You can’t teach those.” At that time, the instructors didn’t want the students to get better than the instructor. But, to me, I feel if you teach your students and they get better than you, then you’ve done your job. You were a good instructor. You didn’t let ego come in and say, “I can’t have a student be better than me.” Yes, I want ALL my students to be better than I am. Then, you can be proud. You taught your student how to do that break when you taught him to go beyond. That shows that you are an amazing teacher.
(FD) What was your first film?
(Cynthia Rothrock) My first film was Yes Madame. We shot that in 1985.
(FD) And, here we are in 2011 and no one that I know of has ever stepped into your shoes. That is a real testimony to your legacy and that’s what we’re really talking about here, LEGENDS AND LEGACIES. I want people to really understand how significant that is “how many years its been” and on top of that, the doors are open for someone to fill your shoes and YOU are the one who opened those doors. Here you are, a mother, God forbid that someone get between you and your daughter, you’re a world class martial artist, very humble. If you wanted to promote yourself as a tenth degree black belt, you would be justified in doing so, but you’ve never, ever chosen to do that. Part of your legacy is that people can look at you and say, don’t be afraid to be a fifth degree, sixth degree or whatever degree you are. It’s more real and believable than a person running around who is 25 years old who claims to be a Grandmaster. What are your thoughts on that? Do you get scared that someone WON’T come along and fill your shoes and your contribution will be lost because the work you did doesn’t reproduce in the next generation?
(Cynthia Rothrock) No I don’t have a fear that no one is going to come along [and fill my shoes]. Times change and everything is different. I look at it as “the golden era” of martial arts movies. Don Wilson once said to me, “We’re doing movies for $300,000. Now they’re doing them for $70 million dollars. How can you compare that? If you take that actor from a 70 million dollar movie and bring him into our movie, with no special effects, not the right stunt people, it would be horrible. You can watch those movies and people liked them back then, but you did them on a shoestring budget. If you can make a movie entertaining on that amount just think if you had 70 million!
(FD) Another misconception is that, when you did these films, you got paid millions of dollars, but you didn’t. You were just making rent and still had to train, and still had to do what you were doing. It comes from a whole different place of love and determination.
(Cynthia Rothrock) I still think that we could do it. It seems that sometimes the Action World is down. People aren’t doing that kind of movie. Then they are. It seems like it might be on the up-rise. It seems like a lot of people are trying to get their projects out now. And, a lot of the Independents went away. They were doing these movies for a little bit of money and making a fortune.
(FD) My theory is that it’s going to change with the technology. Because you don’t need a huge crew today. Because you can shoot a film on video, and shoot and shoot and shoot, we’re going to see lower budgets. The hardest part is marketing. I think YouTube will be the next movie theater, or something like that. You’ll go there and look for a certain film or eventually find your own movie stars, the people that you like and follow that track. Today, you have certain sites that people keep going back to them, they’ve got two or three million viewers. Our generous sponsor, USADOJO.COM and WORLDWIDEDOJO.COM they have a larger audience than anybody. People find them, then go to them, because the integrity level is what makes that site different. It’s not about favoritism. It’s not about pushing a particular DVD or product. It’s about pushing the truth and returning integrity to journalism. If you look at the news today there is no such thing as the news. It’s infotainment. Most networks will admit it. For years they would hang violence on what you did, or I did, but the truth is that it’s actually the news media that is increasing the violence. If you go to Canada, where they don’t show the violent stories in the news coverage as we show here in the United States, they have the same amount of guns, the same demographics, but the violence is way down compared to here in the states.
(Cynthia Rothrock) Now you look at TV. I was looking at it recently with my daughter and there was this vampire show that was coming out and it was so violent and gory that my daughter was covering her eyes. I think it’s just entertainment, anyway. Movies don’t cause more violence now, anymore than they did when we were making movies.
(FD) You’re an idol for me. You really are. I said that to you in 2003, when I first met you. I was really appreciative of you. I have battled a lot of prejudice as a martial artist and I said if this woman can put up with what she has to put up with, then I have nothing to pity party about. Who are the people that you look up to, who have helped shaped your life. Maybe you can advise people of authors to read, who also changed your life.
(Cynthia Rothrock) I’d have to say that it has only been martial arts teachers for me. If it wasn’t for them I t be doing what I’m doing. They all taught me something different. As far as film people when I was little, Jackie Chan was my idol. I liked the way he moved. I liked the element of comedy. I liked the flexibility movements. Directors? I like Tim Burton’s creativity and I like Yu Quay. I think he’s the most brilliant action director there is. It’s funny, but in the last couple of years we’ve gotten to talk and I’ve gotten to know you, Frank Dux. You’ve done so many phenomenal things, and I look at you the same way you look at me. You’re a very humble person, who has had to deal with a lot of jealousy. Men have to deal with that more, perhaps. ve heard people say things because they were jealous of you, but you have that same you let it pass. You are the real deal, and ve told me all the stories, so now ve become my idol. Because I love that, all that stuff that you do, but you have a good heart. You deal with people well and you’re a phenomenal teacher, instructor and you care about the arts. That’s one of the great things about martial arts and people. We now get the opportunity to get to know each other and talk. Whenever people say negative things, it’s jealousy. You shouldn’t believe what people say about others unless you know the people. I have a friend, who just the other day was saying something to me about someone that I’d met and I said, “You know what? You have no right to say one word about that person unless you know them. That shut them up. The hard part is combating the negativity, but what you do is just not waste your time with it. If they want to dwell in negativity and give it out, thats their problem. So, what are your future plans?
(FD) Wow, you make me blush. My future plans are really to take a technology m developing and use it to unite people in the martial arts. It will allow us to eliminate the rules and yet allow fighters a chance to use their skills without causing injury to one another, and by using the technology to fight for Causes; we can make a difference in the world. ve applied for a patent and soon the technology will allow people to use every technique they know and it will take fighting to the next level.
(Cynthia Rothrock) s a good plan.
Interview by Frank Dux
Edited By Gordon Richiusa