Welcome to part two of our interview with the legendary Lady Dragon, Cynthia Rothrock! In part one (read here) we discussed her background, inspirations, movies and screen fights. Here, Cynthia shares further colourful and fascinating insights about her movie career including stunts, training rationale, workouts and more…let’s get ready for action!
Moving onto stunts now if we may, what’s the most difficult stunt you’ve ever done?
Well it was definitely in a Hong Kong film and I’d have to say probably, in “Above the Law”. I had to jump from a really high part of a building and I jumped from there to a platform that was so far from the edge and there was no safety below to protect me. If I had missed the platform, I would have fallen over a hundred feet (thirty metres)! It was really high, so that had to be the scariest for me. They had people there in case I rolled off, but if I’d missed it, I would’ve easily been killed. I said, “Wait a minute, what if this or that happens?” At the beginning of your career however, you just do whatever they say and hope for the best!
It’s like being a cat with so many lives?
Yes, kinda feels like that!
With all this training and stunts what would you say was the worst injury you ever sustained making a movie or otherwise and how did you overcome it?
It was blowing up my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), that wasn’t done filming, that was whilst training. Movie wise, I would have to say in “Yes Madam”. I was fighting Dick Wei and he kicked me in the head and basically I was supposed to duck and he would kick over my head. Corey Yuen said “Cut!” and Dick didn’t understand English so he didn’t know that meant STOP! When I heard cut, I stood up and then he kicked me in the head and then blood started coming out of my ear. That was the first time I’d ever almost passed-out, you know I saw stars and went down to the floor really gently and they took me to the hospital. The hospital said he kicked me so hard that it split my internal ear open, but it was so deep they couldn’t stitch it, so there was nothing they could do. Then I went back to filming and continued the scene.
Didn’t it affect your hearing?
Luckily it didn’t but I was so afraid of him kicking my head that I kept putting my hands over my head and they said, “Stop putting your hands over your head!”, by then I was nervous he was going to hit me in the head again.
Understandably! With all that, what would you say are definitely among your own favourite martial arts movies?
Of course, Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, it’s a classic, still love it along with Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master. I like the old Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung movies. I’m a fan of the old kung fu. Being a traditional martial artist, I could really see all the talent. You can’t just take an actor and have him do a couple of things and put a stunt double in. You really have to know martial arts to do those kinds of films, so I like that. Some of the action scenes today I really like include for example the fight scene in Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr., I was really impressed with it.
That’s like one of my favourite fight scenes of all time because it was so realistic. I love the way it was shot, I love the story behind it, I like really good action. If you’re going to do all the fancy stuff, it has to be really strong and it has to work. I really don’t like watching a lot of fancy stuff if it doesn’t look strong and realistic to me.
It’s hard for me to watch something and go “Wow! I’m really impressed!” As far as current people go today I also like Jason Statham’s, movement because it’s strong, it’s realistic.
Brilliant! Now we are just going to touch a little bit on a couple of film projects that you’ve had going. For example there was White Tiger and Santa’s Summer House. So, White Tiger, more of an action flick?
Yes it’s a pretty typical kind of action picture. Basically revenge, with Matt Mullins and Don Wilson as an ex-army man that became a drunk, it was a different role for him. Matt’s partner is Joe Lewis who gets killed in the movie, so basically he comes to Thailand to find out who killed him and I’m playing that person, you know the number one bad girl!
Santa’s Summer House is the movie with the all-star cast without too much martial arts right?
Absolutely! It has a strong martial arts cast, but funnily enough there is no martial arts in the movie. Basically the director is a big martial arts fan who knew us and he said we have the sweetest people around (always fighting!) and that he wanted to do a nice little family film and use these people because they can really act and are not just about fighting all the time. So, Gary Daniels, Daniel Bernheart and Kathy Long and myself are in it while Robert Mitchum’s son, Chris Mitchum plays Santa Claus.
That sounds like a very homely movie!
It was fun! it’s probably one of the best films that I’ve enjoyed the most because I got to play someone a little bit eccentric, sweet and nice, it was totally different from anything I’ve ever done. So that was fun and I’m a big Christmas fanatic!
Cynthia, you’ve practiced martial arts for several decades, now MMA of course is really popular, what are your thoughts on the evolution of fighting methods?
It’s interesting because for a while it seemed like everybody just wanted to do MMA. I had a conversation with Richard Norton, we were doing this show together and he’s really into MMA and I’m still a traditionalist and I thought, yes it’s great to know, it’s a good supplement if you’re already a black belt or experienced. I said I didn’t think it was something I would teach my daughter to do at thirteen and I asked him, “would you put your wife through that?” He said, “no” and I said, “Well, what would you do?” He said, “I’d teach her a palm strike!” “Exactly!”, I said, you still have to know the traditional basics and MMA is a great supplement to that but I don’t think it’s now as popular as it was. I think there is a going back to the traditional ways. For example, think about Keanu Reeves’ “Man of Tai Chi”
So I really think it’s going to turn round again and come back, it’s funny because with martial arts and with movies it’s cyclical. They are really popular and then they aren’t at all, so it goes in cycles. Before MMA, kickboxing was the craze, people just wanted to do kickboxing, but now I think more people are signing-up to classes.
What would you say has been the crowning glory or best moment of your martial-arts career so far Cynthia?
I would have to say the first time when I was competing when we went for grand champion, I had to compete against the men. I think it was such a momentous thing for me when I won over all the men because that was very hard to do back then, having a woman be men’s grand champion in all forms and weapons divisions. That was the first time I’d ever seen it that was an honour for me because when I was competing back then, I had to compete in weapons with the men and I felt that I just couldn’t be good I had to be even better than good! Then in 1982, I was number one in the United States in weapons out of all men and women it was really a challenging accomplishment, so I’m pretty proud about that.
A unique title! Would you mind telling us what a typical day in the life of Cynthia Rothrock is like?
Sure. I usually get up early, like 5.30am and feed my (three) dogs. Then I get my daughter up for school and take her there, then I go training. After that, if I have business to do I’ll do that, if I don’t I’ll often go and see a movie. Then, I pick-up my daughter and take her to her dance class. Then I’ll go back to the gym because there’s a gym right next to her and I’ll just do some cardio on a treadmill or some Yoga. Then we come home and I help her with homework. By that time it’s probably around 10 o’clock, then I’ll be on the computer and do any other business work, until about midnight. That’s a typical day but lately I’ve been doing a lot of travelling, I travelled so much it’s crazy, this routine I outlined is if I’m not travelling or working on a film.
You mentioned going to the gym. What kind of workouts do you really like to do, any favourite exercises?
I like to do a lot of different things. I also train some people privately so in the course of a day I’ll train my students. When I go to the gym I usually do strength classes that are really tough. One is called Bar Method class that’s kind of dance-based but it’s really hard and I’ll do this one class where you have dumb bells but you change your weight. It becomes cardio with these heavy weights. I like to do advanced yoga (Ashtanga) classes, but if I’m not doing that, I like to go on a machine or a treadmill for an hour (taking something to read so that the hour goes by much faster!) In addition, I’m training martial arts when I’m training with my students. In October I like to take adventure trips, which include hiking, kayaking, water rappelling in places like Costa Rica combined with strenuous biking. I try to do one of those trips every year because it’s very challenging, very adventurous and they take a lot of skill and endurance, it’s a five star work out for sure!
Sounds awesome! Now, we often get a lot of questions asking about training suggestions. What kind of advice could you give that’s worked really well for you over the years?
I’d say to set goals and never give up. If there’s something you can’t do, don’t get discouraged, no matter what! If you keep on practicing you’ll get better and better, whether it’s a routine or stretching and you’re discouraged because you’re really tight or overweight, or you don’t like sparring –just change the attitude and really find the benefit in it. Be positive about your training, don’t accept failure. Also my motto is: ‘practice and perfect’, you’ve got to put one hundred and ten per cent of your energy into it -don’t just give it eighty per cent. Always work out to the best of your own ability, if you don’t, you are only cheating yourself and your goals, so always give it your best!
Stay tuned for grand finale, where we discover and reveal more about the special woman behind the wonder! Part three coming soon, don’t miss it!
Wow. I grew up watching Ms Rothrock. She has always been part of the reason I started martial arts. It’s really good to see she’s still active. I only wish I can tell her thanks for being such an inspiration. They surely don’t make them like they use to.
Just Awesome, this woman gots true potential, I grew up watching her in the movies and she’s still amazing on screen.
A great martial artist who gave as good as she got with the best Hong Kong action stars. The energy and skill of her fights in “Yes Madam”, “Millionaire’s Express” and “Righting Wrongs” are as good as any of her male counterparts. The Lady Dragon still inspires to this day.
It’s good to see a strong yet feminine woman still in the game after all these years. I had forgotten how many movies she had done with Sammo and Biao. Such an interesting life. I’m glad that she has kept up on her practice and interested to see what comes next.
Absolutely! It’s all too easy to remember them as 80’s action stars, but in fact a lot of them are still active today doing other things, working with young people, kids, getting the next generation interested in martial arts. It’s great, it’s inspiring to see so many kids now taking it up seriously too!
Cynthia’s training has definitely contributed to the talent she is today, it may not be the training of a MMA fighter because of her love for traditional arts but surely jump started her career.
It’s a pleasure to see that Cynthia is still working in the business, that she looks so good and is such an inspiration! She has always been an exemplary martial artist in every respect! Her story about taking that high fall struck a nerve for me–I went to stunt school years ago and froze when it came time to practice high falls. :/
Cynthia’s everyday regime is an integrated ethos we should all aspire to, blending effortlessly the training, business and home life into a single unique whole. To see her 180 degree kick, similar to Jean Frenette, on the cover of the first Combat magazine I purchased, brings back aspirational memories. More importantly it demonstrates the very core of the Korean martials arts, high and powerful, yet gracefully destructive kicking tec
Engaging, funny and sassy, the interview truly spells out the dangers and perils of martial arts acting along with the self-discipline of training and the vast rewards that await the dedicated, regardless of gender. A legend!
Very inspiring, simple and yet highly effectives suggestions, there is something that applies to all kinds of training here. The stunt insights and safety aspect was quite revealing. Thanks for all your excellent martial arts movies!