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Meet Dr. Seema Rao, India's Only Female Combat Trainer

© Photo : Special ArrangementsDr Seema Rao
Dr Seema Rao  - Sputnik India, 1920, 07.04.2023
Dr. Rao has trained over 20,000 Indian soldiers ranging from the Indian Army, Paramilitary, and police to elite forces, including NSG Black Cats, Anti Terror Squad, IAF's Garud Commando Force, and Navy-Marine Commandos.
"Once I read somewhere that 'feminism isn't about making women stronger. Women are already strong, it's about changing the way the world perceives that strength' and I couldn't agree more," Dr. Seema Rao, India's only female combat trainer, told Sputnik.
Rao could have been a medical doctor earning a six-digit monthly salary income and planning her retirement in comfort. But she chose to dedicate her life to training forces in close-quarter combat for free.
Rao, who is now also viewed as an icon of women empowerment in India, has won many awards, including the World Peace Diplomat Award, Nari Shakti Puruskar, the highest civilian award for women in 2019 from the president, and the US President's Volunteer Service Award. She and her husband also received three Army Chief Citations for their work in Close-Quarters Battles (CQB).

"A woman is as strong as a man if trained adequately, and she's as capable as a man," the 54-year-old said.

"I always wanted to do something for the nation. Patriotism came in my blood," Rao, the daughter of freedom fighter Ramakant Sinari, stated.
She views it as a blessing to have involved herself selflessly in the nation's service for 25 years, "Now, I want to do something, especially for women."
After retirement, Rao is now training self-defense to women and girls in Mumbai in her academy.
But what has been her inspiration to make the uncommon choice of training commandos? "I was influenced by the toughness of a commando, and then I also used to read commando comics," said Rao.
"However, I never planned to be a commando trainer," said Rao, who studied medicine and immunology.
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Rao, in her adolescence, learned martial arts. She was trained in military martial arts, Israeli Krav maga, and MMA. Later in her life, she did a professional course in sailing and yachting, as well as in scuba diving, a jungle survival course, and then a course in mountain climbing.
She said that her passion turned into a profession, "It happened by destiny."
"A police officer noticed my combat skills and invited me to train his force. And, then, later I became a guest trainer to train the Indian Armed Forces," Rao shared.
She did her first assignment with the Pune Police in the 1990s. In 1997, she got her first assignment with the National Security Guard (NSG).

A Journey in a Male-Dominated World

"In my 25-year career, I trained only men. And I knew my journey would be challenging in the male dominating field. Hence, I always ensured that my physical fitness was up to the mark, and I led the team by doing physical tasks myself," she explained. "Whenever my trainees saw me completing the task, they developed respect for me and did the task."
Rao's husband is Honorary Major Dr. Deepak Rao. The couple met at medical college. Both have developed bonding over martial arts. At the beginning of her career, they trained personnel together. However, when these assignments increased, the couple started traveling alone. "My husband always supported me. And, we are equal partners in life's every decision. It's not his or my decision but the correct decision that is taken," she said.
Rao's training mostly focused on the closed-quarter battle: unarmed combat, quick reflex shooting, team-on-team tactics, and CQB simulation exercises.
However, in between, she suffered two severe injuries. Once, when she fell on her head causing memory loss, and another time, she had a vertebral fracture while traversing a rope that snapped and she was bedridden for 6 months.
"At that time, my husband handled the situation very sensitively as I was feeling frustrated, emotional, and questioning myself," she shared.

Money Was Not Priority

Asked why she and her husband never considered taking any remuneration for their training, Rao said, "The journey to serve the defense force was very satisfying. We both were passionate about it, and taking money from the forces was not a priority."
"Call it patriotism or whatever, money was not the objective of this journey," said Rao.
However, she said, they set up the Academy of Combat Training in Mumbai in 2003 to train corporates and civilians in holistic martial art courses to fulfill their financial needs.
At that time, we started weekend classes, and on weekdays we were training in the forces, she said.

Path to Recognition

So far, Rao has authored eight books that focus on close combat. Her books are on the shelves of the Indian Home Ministry and Armed Forces' libraries and at the libraries of the FBI and SWAT.
"A few years ago, people started following me on Facebook*. People started recognizing me, and then I got invited to many functions and received awards… Everyone thought that I was inspiring. And that was overwhelming and heartwarming, too," she shared.
So far, Rao has given five TED talks. She also spoke at the National Women's Parliament in the Amravathi district of Andhra Pradesh state, where she addressed 15,000 women.
Rao said that women do not realize their potential due to years of conditioning by society that they are not capable of doing impossible things: "I encourage them to explore their aptitude and reach their maximum potential since life is only once. Women have the right to make their choices and should not be afraid to do that in their life."
Rao also said she feels that women should take criticism at work in a correct way and not feel ostracized. If there is truth in the criticism they should work on it.
*Activity of Meta (Facebook and Instagram) is banned in Russia as extremist