HER NAME translates, literally, to “a boundary” but Dr Seema Rao, the country’s first and the only woman Commando trainer, has broken past several “boundaries” in the past 20 years. An expert on close-quarter combat and often referred to as the country’s Wonder Woman, Seema is a government-approved combat trainer. Along with husband Major Deepak Rao, Seema has so far trained more than 15,000 commandos from almost all Indian armed forces, including the NSG Black Cats, Air force GARUD and the BSF.
“I am just a civilian doing her bit for the nation,” said 49-year-old Seema, who is the daughter of freedom fighter Ramakant Sinari. “I would hear stories of my father’s fight for the nation’s freedom. It was inspiring and I wanted to do something for the country,” she told The Indian Express. The resolve was made stronger after she married an officer.
While Seema intended to serve the nation, it was not her original desire to enter the arena of combat training. “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. Soon, the couple was invited for various trainings and Seema emerged as a “crack shot” at shooting.
“There has been no looking back since then,” she said. But the journey has not been without obstacles, particularly since the Mumbai-based couple refused any remuneration for the work they were doing. “We have battled bankruptcy, sold our belongings, lived in a chawl. But our resolve to serve the nation did not falter,” said Seema, who was awarded the first Sri Shanmukhananda Shaurya Ratna award by Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts and Sangeeta Sabha on India’s 72nd Independence Day.
“Training has been a continuous process. Over the years, I have been upgrading my skills and I impart those skills,” she said. A few years ago, after two major injuries – a vertebral fracture and a head injury leading to amnesia – sustained during imparting training, Seema did have a moment of doubt. “I was wondering whether to continue in a field that entails grievous injuries. But I always thought that giving up is a loser’s choice,” she said. So, she continued with her work but also started recording and documenting the latest combat techniques. Today, she has authored several books, including the world’s first close-combat training encyclopedia found in the FBI and Interpol libraries.
Seema has an MBBS degree but the medical profession has taken a backseat for her with travel taking up almost eight months of the 12 months in a year. But when not out on training assignments, Seema likes to spend her time boxing men at her Academy of Combat Fitness, Andheri. “I relax by boxing men, who are half my age and twice my size, and getting bruised. But I thrash them to victory,” she said. Her daughter Komal, who is also a medical professional, has followed suit.
Komal runs the academy as the deputy director of administration. “As a child, I used to be frail, just like my name suggests. But looking at my mother’s work, I wanted to experience combat training, too,” said Komal, who recently defeated a male opponent in a mixed martial art cage fight in Germany.
“Traditionally, for various reasons, we do not focus much on the physical attributes of women, except for the appearance. Physical strength in women has taken a backseat. But the truth is that women are perceived as frail when we are far from it,” said Komal (26). The academy has been seeing a surge in the number of women seeking combat training. “It talks about the evolution of women’s struggle. Now, women want to pursue strength as a vocation,” said Komal.
Recently the mother-daughter duo took it upon themselves to talk to young women and motivate them to pursue their dreams through motivational talks at schools and colleges. “The ‘me’ you think you are is the ‘me’ you will be. Women are as capable as men, given the right training. So go out there and conquer the world,” said Seema. This, she said, is her message to young girls of today.