A 7th-degree black belt holder in military martial arts, Seema Rao is India’s only female commando trainer. A prominent expert in close quarter battle, Seema has been giving commando training to various armed forces in India for 20 years, without taking any monetary compensation in return! Seema is also a combat shooting instructor, a firefighter, a scuba diver, an HMI medalist in rock climbing, and a Mrs India World pageant finalist.
This incredibly multifaceted lady is also one of the only 10 women in the world certified in Jeet Kune Do, a unique martial art form created by Bruce Lee in the 1960s.
Seema Rao is the daughter of freedom fighter Prof. Ramakant Sinari, who helped in the liberation of Goa from the Portuguese. The deeply patriotic Seema grew up listening to stories of India’s struggle for independence and always wanted to serve her country. She finally had the opportunity to convert this desire into reality when she met her future husband, Major Deepak Rao, at the age of 16. Major Rao had been practising martial arts since the age of 12 and it was he who introduced Seema to this empowering field.
After marriage, the couple continued to learn and excel in martial arts, shooting, and weapon defence while they simultaneously pursued an education in medicine. After becoming certified doctors, Deepak equipped himself with the prestigious CLET Law Enforcement certification, while Seema did her MBA in crisis management. The formidable couple then started thinking about how they could channelise their desire to do something constructive for the country. After much thought, they decided to train the soldiers of the Indian armed forces without accepting any compensation in return.
There were two factors that inspired them to take up this Herculean challenge. One was the desire to serve the personnel who guard India and the other was their instinctive need to remain engaged in combat and martial arts. So, in 1996, they approached the Service Chiefs of Army, Navy, BSF & NSG. The chiefs were impressed with the couple’s dedication and decided to try out their training programme. There was no looking back after that.
Seema has since spent 20 years as a full-time guest trainer of the Indian armed forces.
The journey wasn’t easy. The couple had to face several financial hardships in the initial years of their marriage but they stuck to their decision of not charging a single rupee for their work. Also, since Seema was constantly travelling to hostile locations, through harsh weather and inhospitable terrain, she could not even attend her father’s funeral. Realising that it would be impossible to carry a pregnancy through, given her rigorous training schedule, Seema consciously decided not to have her own child and instead adopted a girl. In the course of work, Seema also suffered multiple injuries that included a vertebral fracture and a severe head injury that made her lose her memory for months (she could not recognise anyone but her husband). She was also shot at by insurgents but her determination to serve her nation never wavered.
Along with her husband, Seema has provided training to almost every elite unit of the Indian Forces, including the NSG Black Cats, MARCOS, GARUD, Paracommandos, BSF, the Army Corps Battle Schools and its Commando Wing. She has also trained officers of the National Police Academy, the Army Officers Training Academy and the Police Quick Response Teams of almost every major city in India.
Though Seema has repeatedly proven herself in the male-dominated field of commando training, she still meets trainees in every course who are reluctant to learn from a woman. In an interview with Naaree, Seema said:
“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.”
In 2009, after training the GARUD commandos, Seema was invited by the Air Force Chief for the official IAF Para Jump course. Here, she earned her IAF Para Wings, another rare achievement