By Poorvi Gupta
Pune, Jan. 8, 2019: Seema Rao’s story is one of grit, dedication and passion to achieve a higher ground.
She wasn’t born with a “god-gifted” talent but she worked hard toward making her life’s journey extraordinary by becoming the first and only female commando trainer in the country.
Seema is a crack shot and can shoot an apple off a man’s head at 75 yards. Trained in knife-fighting she can subdue multiple attackers. Rao can train and command a whole team of 100 all by herself. She is also trained in Military Martial Arts (MMA) and Israeli Krav Maga. Finally, she is also the world’s senior-most woman instructor in Bruce Lee’s art of Jeet Kune Do (JKD).
Rao grew up listening to her father’s stories of struggle as he was a freedom fighter and that always fascinated her. She often thought “about how our country’s freedom fighters gave up their lives for freedom, which we enjoy and take for granted,” said Rao in a conversation with SheThePeople.TV.
However, that didn’t push her to become a commando trainer. In her early 20s, she got married to Major Deepak Rao, the fifth Indian to receive the President Rank Award since independence. She says that life and destiny made her a commando trainer as sometime after her marriage, she had to leave Mumbai which was her matrimonial house after a dispute with her in-laws and both she and her husband shifted to Pune.
“I and my hubby had a chance meeting with the Commandant of Army School of Physical Training, Brig GRC Nair. He gave us an opportunity to give a demo at ASPT. Brigadier GRC Nair’s review got us a stint for the Black Cats NSG under the invitation of DG NSG.
The Commandant at NSG got us an appointment with the Chief of Army Staff in Delhi. I met COAS, who was impressed with me and my husband and we planned a six-week Army cadre at the Parachute Regiment Training Center in Bangalore which trains the Para Special Forces,” said Seema. After that, there was no looking back for the Raos.
She gives shooting demos in her courses. “My husband would hold a target on top of his head. From 75 yards distance, I would shoot five rounds into the bullseye of the target. This became so popular that commando units all over started inviting us to train their personnel. I would duck a live bullet fired from a 9mm pistol aimed at my head. I would also shoot five targets within 2 seconds,” Seema said matter-of-factly.
She specializes in Close Quarter Battle or CQB, an art of commando warfare. It involves unarmed combat, armed combat, reflex shooting, team on team tactics and CQB simulation commando exercises, she explained. While one would get intimidated by these terms and the lives of commandoes, but for Rao, they thrill her. And with our country’s history in war where the army came in close proximity to their enemies CQB assumed greater importance.
“In combat arts, I had learned to relish the adrenaline of getting hit if you don’t hit first. After seeing the world of commandos, I wondered what thrill the men of war face. Shoot first, shoot fast, shoot to kill…I too wanted to be part of this game wanted to understand the subject of Commando Training better.”
Rao further tells us, “As a Commando Trainer, apart from the skills and training required, you need an exposure to and be comfortable with challenges of different environment, terrains and climatic conditions. So, I did a professional course in sailing and yatchmanship as well as scuba diving to understand the problems faced in deep waters. A course in mountaineering to understand the challenges posed in high altitude and extreme cold.
To understand altitude, I also did a skydiving course. And I was also equipped with knowledge of the human body and medicine. Now I understand the subject of survival and Commando Training better. It was not easy equipping myself with these skills. It needed dedication and a deep desire to absorb and learn all that was necessary.”
Seema works as a team with her husband and they both support each other through their work. “In our partnership, we complement each other. We have our own capabilities and together our capabilities multiplied. He has always been very supportive and encouraging. Whenever I felt defeated and hopeless, he would tell me ‘Stand up and fight’. He always told me that I should reach my maximum potential,” says Rao.
Their partnership has resulted in some successful initiatives like a shooting method which goes by the name of The Rao System of Reflex Fire. “It was developed after years of research, travelling to various Force locations, training different Forces over 20 years. So in essence, it is an indigenous innovation from within the Indian forces and for benefit of forces. It was used to help CQB modernization for various Counter Insurgency Op commands.”
Women are as capable as men. It’s not just a man’s job but even a woman’s job to protect the boundaries of our Mother India. There is nothing that a man can do which a woman cannot. With appropriate training, a woman can be as strong as a man.
Talking about gender inequality among Indian forces, she says that it is a universal problem. “It’s an opinion carried over the centuries. Women have to change the impression that men are superior and that women are incapable of doing what a man can do. Times are changing. Today, women are taking key positions in the Govt., defence and corporate sector. It’s about time that women are acknowledged as equally competent and skilled.”
It is only in the recent years that defense has encouraged women to take up combat positions in the BSF, Military Police Force, and also in IAF.
“Women are as capable as men. It’s not just a man’s job but even a woman’s job to protect the boundaries of our Mother India. There is nothing that a man can do which a woman cannot. With appropriate training, a woman can be as strong as a man. So in today’s combat scenario, there is a need for women combatants. And yes, our Defence Minister Nirmalaji is an ideal example of what a woman can achieve.”
In future, Rao wants to write a training manual for the Forces. She also wants to popularize the DARE (Defence Against Rape and Eve teasing) program.