Dr. Seema Rao’s unassuming demeanor gives no indication that she is India’s only woman commando trainer. However, her 5-feet-7-inch taut frame, rock-solid physique, lightning fast kicks and stone-like muscles certainly do.
The holder of a first-degree black belt in Taekwondo, Rao is a boxing and Krav Maga instructor, and well- known as one of the world’s highest- ranking woman instructors in Jeet Kune Do – an extremely flexible discipline of martial arts founded by Bruce Lee. Besides, Seema holds an eighth-degree black belt in military martial arts.
While otherwise soft-spoken, she is a globally renowned expert in close quarter battle. Seema and her husband, Hon. Major Deepak Rao, have been training Indian commandos in various wings of the military for more than 20 years – without charging them a penny. Her hobbies are as fascinating, including scuba diving, sky diving, rock climbing, sailing, yachtmanship, even winning beauty contest.
Seema earned her Para Wings, a symbol of having done a parachuting course, by qualifying in the para jumping course of the Indian Air Force Adventure Cell, which sets very high standards. She has won a silver medal in rock climbing from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, done courses in sailing and yatchmanship, and is a Mrs. India World beauty pageant finalist.
Do not forget her title. She is also a doctor – an MD – and has an MBA in crisis management to boot. Her accomplishments give little inkling of Seema’s early years as a timid child at school, often being bullied by her classmates.
“But within my submissiveness was lurking a deep desire to be in control, to dominate my fears,” Seema said with a gentle laugh. “I just needed an inspiration; who would open the doors for me to a brave new world,” she added.
Fortunately, her father Ramakant Sinari recounted to her thrilling tales of valor and patriotism. Sinari was a professor at the famed Indian Institute of Technology, but in his younger days he used to be a freedom fighter who worked to liberate Goa from the Portuguese.
“I used to hear his accounts of bravery and used to think that I, too, needed to do something significant for my country, though I did not what or how,” Seema said. “His account of escaping from the Portuguese prison with his fellow freedom fighter, and their crossing the Mandovi river with Portuguese police on their tail used to fill my mind with excitement, and the fervor of patriotism,” the commando trainer recounted.
I could shoot an apple on a person’s head from 50 yards without giving him a scratch, and also evade a speeding bullet with ease.Seema remarks with no trace of pride
She met Hon. Major Deepak Rao (then just Deepak Rao) who had been into martial arts since the age of 12. Seema, then just 16, was drawn by his charm and positivity, and was absolutely fascinated by his martial arts skills.
He initiated her into the empowering world of martial arts. Seema developed an instant love for it. Under Deepak Rao’s tutelage, she began to shed her fears. As she gained confidence, their shared interest in martial arts also witnessed a romance blossom between them.
Rao went on to get formal training in Taekwondo, Krav Maga, Jeet Kune Do and earn her global reputation in military martial arts and close combat.
The Raos also honed their skills in sports shooting and weapon use.
TRAINING THE FORCES
During the mid 90s, the Raos were deluged with invitations to demonstrate their skills to various military bodies. In 1996, the then chiefs of the Indian army, navy, the Border Security Force, and National Security Guard, all decided to try their innovative training program.
Over the last two decades, they have been guest trainers for more than 20,000 personnel from India’s armed forces, paramilitary, and the police services.
The Raos realized early on that their all-consuming passion could compromise their careers as medical personnel, and impact their financial viability. They also had to prepare for a lot of hardship, since training commandos and other armed forces personnel called for them to visit inhospitable terrain. Despite this, the duo refused to be paid for their work.
CQB, REFLEX SHOOTING AND ACCS
The Raos achieved national fame for their work in the realm of close-quarter battle (CQB), fighting that happens within 30 yards. Their techniques include aspects of unarmed combat, shooting at close range, team-on-team tactics, and close-quarter battle simulation exercises – tactics effective in counterterrorism operations, where enemies have to be tackled at close range, often in enclosed places.
Based on their experience in training Indian forces, they developed an indigenous method of reflex shooting: The Rao System of Reflex Fire.
“The conventional methods of shooting generally use many seconds before taking aim and shoot,” Seema explained. “It is most efficient only in long range combat, say, when the enemy is 30-500 yards away, which is the range of most assault rifles. But when the [enemy] is only 25 yards away …, you need to aim and shoot much more quickly,” she elaborated further.
The couple has also come up with Advanced Commando Combat System. Besides being a unique shooting system, it relies on quickly handicapping the enemy with minimum effort, and using each member of the team for a different task instead of using them all for the same one, as done in conventional western CQBs. Of course, the Raos teach their innovative methods only to Indian military forces.
A PRICE TO PAY
For all the fame she has received, Seema not only had to train forces in hostile terrain and harsh weather conditions, but also to endure male chauvinism.
“Many a time I meet trainees who are reluctant to learn from an outside resource, especially if the outside resource happens to be a woman. Eventually I earn their respect through my determination and warfare skills,” Seema said. She has also suffered multiple injuries during her training sessions.
“Once while in a hand-to-hand fight training session with one of my trainees, I fell on my back and had a concussion,” Seema recalled. She lost her memory for months, during which time she could not recognize anyone else other than her husband. On another occasion she suffered a vertebral fracture, which kept her bedridden for months. She was also shot at by insurgents during travel to a training assignment for Indian forces.
Because of her rigorous training schedule, she could not even address personal tragedies properly.
“I was training the forces, when I got the news of my father’s death. Despite the tremendous mental turmoil that the news brought me, I completed the training session,” Seema affirmed.
“I knew the demands of my passion would not give much space to me as a mother, so I chose to opt out of motherhood,”
Like her parents, Komal Rao is a certified instructor of the little-known martial art form, Jeet Kune Do. The three of them are among the handful of authorized Jeet Kune Do instructors in the world. The three were trained by Richard Bustillo, a disciple of Bruce Lee and an authority on Jeet Kune Do.
UCCA MAKING A DIFFERENCE
The Rao couple also set up a non-profit organization – the Unconventional Commando Combat Academy – which helps train Indian forces and publishes books on martial arts for them.
“Our book Encyclopedia of Close Combat Ops is the world’s first encyclopedia on CQB training, and it found a place in the FBI library and the Interpol library,” Seema informed.
UCCA also has a civil chapter, which offers training in Jeet Kune Do. “Under this civil chapter we also teach a variety of martial arts to civilians for a fee,” she disclosed.
The civil chapter promotes holistic human development, and addresses issues such as physical fitness, nutrition and weight management, life management and self improvement skills, and health management. The UCCA teaching faculty is made up of ex-military instructors, dieticians, physiotherapists, martial arts experts and doctors.
AWARDS AND RECOGNITION
Seema has won several awards, including the Nari Shakti Puraskar from the Indian President in 2019, the World Peace Award at the World Peace Congress in Malaysia, the US President’s Volunteer Service Award, and three army citations. According to Wikipedia, Seema was ranked sixth on the 2019 Forbes India W-Power Trailblazer list.
The superwoman is happy that she was picked for those awards and recognitions, but said that her greatest reward still lay in training India’s armed forces.