Cynthia Rothrock – Martial Artist, Actress, Instructor

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By Kathleen McQuaid

                Cynthia Rothrock is an American martial artist, an actress who specializes in martial arts films, and an instructor. She holds five black belts in Korean and Chinese martial arts, her highest rank is 8th Degree Black Belt in Tang Soo and is the inspiration behind the game character “Sonya Blade”, from Mortal Kombat.

                Born March 8, 1957 in Wilmington Delaware, she began her martial arts training at the age of 13. She started taking lessons at her parent’s best friends gym in Scranton Pennsylvania, and was encouraged by her teachers to enter open competition when it was clear she was talented. Cynthia competed in both male and female divisions, winning hundreds of trophies and literally capturing every forms and weapons title in both open and closed karate competitions. In 1981 – 1985, she was the undefeated World Karate Champion in the forms and weapons categories. In 1983, Rothrock was inducted into the Black Belt Magazine Hall of Fame as “Female Competitor of the Year”. She traveled the world and became known for “her ‘action-packed’ self-defense and fight scenario performances.” 1

                This international exposure soon led to her becoming a Martial Arts Celebrity. She was the first woman to appear on the cover of a martial arts magazine and has been featured in hundreds of national and international publications including Black Belt Magazine, Inside Kung-fu, Martial Arts Training and more.

                The weapons she has embraced include Chinese weapons such as the Double Broad Sword, Staff, Nine-section Steel Whip Chain, Iron Fan, as well as an assortment of Okinawan Kobudo and Japanese Bugei Weapons. It is believed her favorite weapon is the hook sword. She holds 8th Degree Black Belt in Tang Soo Do awarded by Grand Master Robert Kovaleski, 9th Dan and chair of the I.T.M.A. Cynthia also holds black belts in Tae Kwon Do, Eagle Claw, Wu Shu, and Northern Shaolin. The Korean style Tang Soo Do combines elements of shotokan karatesubaktaekkyon, and kung fu. Actor Chuck Norris popularized Tang Soo Do in the 80’s and 90’s.

 Ms. Rothrock’s film career began in 1985, being featured in three movies. In 24 Hours to Midnight, Cynthia played the role of Devon Grady a woman which her husband is killed, then she takes revenge as a ninja. Defend Yourself / Sybervision was a self-defense video by Grandmaster Hee Il Cho. The third movie was a Hong Kong action film Yes Madam which also starred Michelle Yeoh. This movie was a hit—breaking all box office records in Hong Kong, launching her martial arts movie career. She continued to star in movies in Hong Kong becoming the first non-Chinese Westerner to carry a movie. Cynthia starred with many well-known kung-fu greats including Samo Hung and Yuen Biao. She continued acting in martial arts and action features since, so many that her website names her the “Martial Arts Video Queen”. She took a brief hiatus to focus on teaching from 2005-2011.  Cynthia returned to acting in 2012 with a role in the family film Santa’s Summer House, and her beloved action genre with Badass Showdown and Mercenaries, (available on Netflix). Her most recent movie is The Martial Arts Kid currently being screened at select theatres across the United States and promoted through her Facebook pages. ( According to her website, she will be featured in several upcoming productions including The Peculiar Perils of Penelope Peacock, Blue Seude and Bitchfight.

                Today, Cynthia holds international seminars and appearances, her next will be in Munich, Germany on April 22 and 23. She also owned and operated two karate schools one called America’s Best with George Chung. They had also written a book together called Advanced Dynamic Kicks, in 1986. She has one daughter Skylar Sophia Rothrock, I do not think she is currently married, but at the age of 21 she married her kung fu instructor Ernest Rothrock.


  1. Cynthia Rothrock, “Biography,” Official Cynthia Rothrock web site,