Princess Diana of the Amazons is granted powers by the Greek gods to be the “Wonder Woman”. With unusual speed and strength, she can fly and is also trained in hand-to-hand combat. Besides, she has a startling gear to aid her. It is said that her training is the source of her strength. She has prowess over directing her mental powers into physical skills.
Enters the picture, Dr Seema Rao, India’s first woman commando trainer. She has spent over two decades of her life training over 20,000 soldiers of India’s elite Armed Forces (which includes the police personnel, soldiers, paramilitary and commandos) in close quarter battle (CQB) without any compensation. A 7th-degree black belt holder in military martial arts, a combat shooting instructor, a firefighter, a scuba diver, an HMI medallist in rock climbing and having been featured in Forbes India 2019 W-Power Trailblazers, she is titled as India’s Wonder woman.
Who is Dr Seema Rao?
“I am just a civilian doing her bit for the nation,” said 49-year-old Rao, while being interviewed by The Indian Express. She has received three Army Chief Citations, US President’s Volunteer Service Award and a World Peace Diplomat Award for her exceptional service. She was conferred the prestigious Nari Shakti Puruskar 2019 which is the highest civilian honour for exemplary women in India.
A woman with several feathers on her cap, she has been trained and is one of the only 10 female instructors across the globe to teach Jeet Kune Do, a special martial arts training created by Bruce Lee. She has also earned her Para Wings by skydiving in the Indian Air Force course. A living example of beauty with brains, Seema has been one of the finalists in the coveted Mrs India World beauty pageant and authored several books on combat techniques and explosive devices, which can be found in the libraries of Indian Armed forces and the US’s FBI.
She has also made India’s first Mixed Martial Arts movie—Hathapayi, which she directed apart from acting, and singing in it.
Despite being a certified doctor in conventional medicine and having an MBA in crisis management, she decided to forego a secure and comfortable life in order to serve the country.
Childhood: The inspiration days
Addressing a global audience during her TEDx talk, Seema talked about being born to a freedom fighter and the way her childhood was instrumental in shaping her life choices. Her father’s stories of the days of struggle for freedom inspired and fuelled her passion to commit her life to the service of the country.
Recounting her childhood days, she said, “As a child in school I was weak and dominated, bullied around, and I wanted to change that.”
While she was pursuing her studies in medicine, she met and married a man at a very young age who has played a significant and inevitable role in her journey. Dr Deepak Rao, who had been practising martial arts since the age of 12 introduced her to this empowering field. He later received the honorary rank of Major by the President of India.
Seema trained under her husband, as she wanted the “childhood bully equation to change” and she recollects one incident vividly that changed everything for the better.
In the early 1990s, recently married, the couple got into an ugly brawl with rag pickers at Girgaum Chowpatty in south Mumbai where they trained every morning. “This is your fight, deal with it yourself. You’re ready,” her husband told her. Her swift reflexes and coordinated moves from years of training made sure, only her T-shirt bore the brunt of the knife fight. “I still get goosebumps. But after that, I felt like a different person was born,” she recalls. “I knew I had finally moved from weakness to strength — from being controlled to being in control, reported Forbes India.
The couple ever since started to think on the ways to dedicate their life towards the service of the country. They chose to train the soldiers serving the army since they desired to serve the personnel who guard India and their instinctive need to remain involved in combat and martial arts.
“The combat training part happened perchance while visiting a senior police official with my husband. The official was quite impressed with my unarmed combat strength,” Seema recalled in an interview to The Indian Express.
Soon they were called for various training workshops and they have trained personnel from state police forces, Border Security Forces, National Security Guards in both armed and unarmed combat training, close quarter combat techniques and reflex shooting techniques without any compensation.
Challenges of a woman commando trainer
It is rightly said that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy and so has been in Seema’s journey. Even with an exceptional list of qualifications to her credit, she had to face the tough days. A training period where a civilian is being tasked to train the armed forces does not end smoothly all the time especially when the civilian is a woman trainer.
“Not only did I have to discipline them, but I also had to gain their confidence in my ability to teach. However, eventually, I have always managed to earn the respect of commandos that I have trained,” she said.
Talking about their ingeniously developed combat technique, “The conventional methods of shooting generally uses up many seconds to aim precisely and then shoot. This is beneficial in long-range combat when the enemy is say 300 yards away, covered by a rock. But when the enemy is just 20 yards away and in front of you, quick shooting without using too much time for precise aim is needed. To cater to this need in modern warfare, we devised the Rao System of Reflex Fire. The Indian forces have found this very beneficial.”
Since the couple made up their mind against any form of compensation for their service, the difficulties stemming up from such a decision had been numerous. They had to overcome financial complications with selling their properties and even living in a Chawl but nothing could discourage them from pursuing their goals.
Physically, Seema had two major injuries – a vertebral fracture and a head injury leading to amnesia (where she could not remember anyone except her husband) – sustained during imparting training. Seema did have a moment of doubt but “I always thought that giving up is a loser’s choice,” she said to The Indian Express.
Since training is a continuous and arduous task, as a trainer Seema needs to always be in the peak of her health and due to this commitment to fitness she decided to let go of her biological child. However, she later adopted a girl and raised her with equal vim and vigour.
When not out on training assignments, Seema likes to spend her time boxing men at her Academy of Combat Fitness, in Andheri. “I relax by boxing men, who are half my age and twice my size, and getting bruised. But I thrash them to victory,” reported The Indian Express.