Women’s Empowerment: Cynthia Rothrock


Lance The (OMG!) Obscure Movie Guy

What do we mean by empowerment? How do we define it? Categorize it? What does empowerment mean to begin with? These were all things that I had to ask myself when I was asked by the Mustache to provide a blog post for them this month.

It wasn’t that I don’t know what these things are, or don’t believe in, or agree with them, but I didn’t want to do a disservice to the Mustache and The Beard. I wanted this to be right and fall in line with how they convey Women’s Empowerment. It’s important to them, and their integrity is important to me, Lance the Obscure Movie Guy.

One definition of empowerment according to the Oxford dictionary is: the process of
becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights. According to americanscholarspress.us, empowerment of women can be categorized into 5 main parts-social, educational, economic, political, and psychological.

This starts to paint a clearer picture, especially when categorized as such. In Hollywood, one example of women’s empowerment can be seen in the controversial
“Me, too!” movement. Female actresses, writers, directors, and producers, made claims of sexual misconduct by Hollywood big wigs such as the highly publicized Harvey
Weinstein case, or sadly even Bill Cosby.

Women empowered other women to come forward, to let their voices be heard, to take control, and ownership of their very own careers. As they rightfully should. Women’s Empowerment can come in many forms, but it usually takes one woman in a
certain situation to become the catalyst.

This can be found in many examples. Be it Ginger Rogers going step for step with Fred Astaire in the 10 films that they made together. Or Janet Guthrie being the first woman to compete in the Daytona 500 (1976) and to compete in the Indy 500 (1977). Or even Justice Sandra Day O’Conner who was the first female on the Supreme Court (1981).

All of these women were pioneers for others to follow suit. Rogers opened the door for Rita Hayworth, Guthrie for Lynn St. James and Danica Patrick, and O’Conner for Ruth Bader Ginsberg. But who was the pioneer for the likes of Jennifer Garner, Kate Beckinsale, Maggie Q, or even Scarlett Johanson?

Enter Cynthia Rothrock, all 5’3” and 110lbs of her. But an absolute giant in the world of
Martial Arts. Rothrock was born March 8th, 1957, just in time for Women’s Empowerment Month here at The Mustache and The Beard, and at the age of 13 she started studying martial arts.

In 1981 she won her first Karate Illustrated World Championship in forms and weapons. In 1985 she would retire after holding that title for 5 consecutive years. She took first place in forms in 32 of 38 tournaments and took first place in weapons 12 times. She won the “Men’s Forms” 3 out of 4 times because there were no other females to compete with.

She was a Grand Master at 5 tournaments where she placed first. In 1983 she was inducted into Black Belt Magazines Hall of Fame as “Female Competitor of the Year,” and was the first female martial artist to be on the cover of the Magazine. She has 7 black belts and sashes in varying styles of martial arts including Tang Soo Do, Taekwondo, Karate, Eagle Claw, Wu Shu, Northern Shaolin, and Pai Lum Tao Kung Fu.

In 1985 she auditioned for some Producers of the Hong Kong production company
Golden Harvest in Los Angeles where in their words they were “looking for the next Bruce Lee.” Of the several hundred men that auditioned, they landed on her to take the reins. Later that year, she would make her Hong Kong film debut in “Yes, Madam” starring alongside none other than Michelle Yeoh.

As it turned out though the Chinese action movie market hit hard. Literally. In an
interview with Entertainment Weekly during Aug. of ‘91 she told them “Action films are a part of their culture, and they like to see you get hit. On my first film I got kicked in the jaw so hard blood was coming out of my ear. I thought I was going to die!”

Muscling through it all she became well known in the Asian market and stayed in Hong Kong until 1988 making 7 more movies for Golden Harvest. They even credited her in the movies in proper Cantonese as “Fu Lok Law.” She would take on such martial art screen legends as Samo Hung and Yuen Bioa.

Her most recognizable film would come in 1990 with the help from some Hollywood star power. Rothrock would star alongside Chad Mcqueen in Martial Law. Chad is the son of legendary actor Steve McQueen. Chad played the lead in the movie, but Rothrock stood out for her looks, acting, and brutal fighting ability.

Through the 80’s and 90’s Rothrock would make an average of 4 movies a year that were split between Hollywood production and Hong Kong production. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, she would slow things down to about an avg. of 1-2 movies a year because of the birth of a daughter in ‘99. And in 2004 she would make Xtreme Fighter and then promptly take a sabbatical from making movies.

She would concentrate on raising her daughter and working with Z Ultimate Self Defense Studios where she co-owns a Dojo herself in Studio City, CA. She would return to acting in 2012 with Santa’s Summer House. Since her return, she has been
making films at a regular pace all while running a dojo, teaching self-defense, raising a daughter and learning new martial arts herself.

It’s hard to say whether Rothrock actually paved the way for future female action stars.
Her name is not as recognizable as ScarJo, Milla Jovovich or Beckinsale and many more. But in the martial arts world she is an absolute legend. She is one of the few westerners to wholeheartedly make a career in the east. She herself has been constantly learning, evolving, and pushing herself.

She has taken on the men in the Martial Arts world. She has taken on the
Chinese movie industry. She has taken on motherhood, mentorship, and business ownership, and conquered them all. She walks with the grace and poise of royalty, she moves with the elegance of a ballerina, and strikes with the force of a moving truck. She is the walking embodiment of Women’s Empowerment.

Lance The Obscure Movie Guy
Lance the OMG!

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