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Arunima Maharshi

IWB Blogger

MMA Fighter Dr Komal Rao On Being The Only Indian Woman To Have Fought A Man In Pro Cage Fight

  • IWB Post
  •  January 12, 2019

I first read about Dr Komal Rao on the social media page of a photographer who had met her at her recent TEDx talk. In her introduction he had written, “Dr. Komal Rao – a Jeet Kune do instructor and one of the few women mixed martial arts competitors from India.”

Intrigued, I switched to Google and read all that I found about her, and having landed on the fighter’s Facebook Page, thought of writing to her. Two days later we were on the phone, discussing what inspired her to take to the MMA ring, what it is like to take and give self-defense training, the role her parents’ support played, and a lot more.

An MMA club owner, coach, and competitor from India, Komal is a fifth degree blackbelt under UCCA organisation, and is the only Indian woman to have fought a man in a Professional MMA cage fight. Currently, she ranks 21st on the Pro MMA Women fighter list. And one of the lesser known facts about her is that she has acted in an Indian MMA movie, Hathapayi, screen-named Kayra!

Komal’s mother Dr Seema Rao is India’s first woman commando trainer, and having trained the Special Forces of India for 18 years without compensation, is known as ‘India’s Wonder Woman’. The mother-daughter duo is among the handful of instructors in the world authorised to teach Bruce Lee’s art Jeet Kune Do, and are trained by Richard Bustillo, the original disciple of the legendary martial artist. At the mention of her mother, Komal said, “She is my biggest role model. It is from her that I derive my strength.”

Dr Komal Rao

More excerpts below:

Let’s trace back to the time you first saw your mother in the avatar of a commando-trainer? What feelings did that moment evoke?

It was an outdoor training session of Police Forces. I stood in one corner and watched her, and her dominating physical presence on the field had me enthralled. I must have been around 15 then.

Did that have a role to play in your stepping on a similar path as hers? 

When I first told my mother about my desire to train, she was a bit surprised, and naturally so because true to my name, I am quite delicate (Komal), and was more of a bookworm.

Dr Komal Rao

Dr Seema Rao

It was on seeing her strength that I realized the importance and power of it. That sense pushed me to step out of the sheltered conditioning, and encouraged me to attain the physical and mental strength necessary for self-protection. 

What was your response to the changes, what was it like to train? 

It is a slow process, and initially I would even complain about the discipline and question the strictness level, she laughed. But with time it was the very discipline that got me addicted to training routine. I saw myself wanting to push my body and achieve new goals.

Dr Komal Rao

Do you recall your first fight or the first bruises? 

It wasn’t really a “fight”, but the first time my training came in real action was when I slapped a boy who used to follow me. I’d told my mother about it and her response was, “just turn around and give him three tight slaps” – I could have never done that before. But when I saw him next, I did exactly the same; he was quite timid and the beating got him running. But otherwise I have always trained with boys, and have a lot of injuries from those sessions.

You recently won a Pro MMA Fight against a male opponent. How different was that experience in terms of the fight dynamics? 

It was a Pro MMA fight with an Austrian woman, but she met with an accident on the day of the fight. To avoid a call-off, I got asked if I would fight with a man. Initially, I was little apprehensive, because it had not happened before, and the strength and aggression level of a man’s body is different from that of a woman. But I decided to go for it, for once in the ring, it’s all the same – it’s all about how you tune your mind. One thought, one action, no doubts. And it did turn out to be a one-of-its-kind experience, there was so much of positive crowd cheering, and inside the ring too, it was a fair play.

Dr Komal Rao

Dr Komal Rao

Tell me a little about your Fight Club, ‘Academy Of Combat Fitness’. What is the girl-boy ratio like? 

There is equal participation of boys/men and girls/women at my club. I would encourage everyone to learn some form of self-defence; it is the need of the hour. But besides that, training also instills in you discipline and helps you know what you can do and what you cannot do – it is no good to be in lost waters.

Just the other day, a 64-year-old woman joined us, and her enthusiasm was to be seen. Women have become so independent in this era, and I couldn’t be gladder to see that desire of self-sufficiency in the eyes of a woman. And to let out a secret, I’ve always felt more inclined towards training women. 

Ha-ha. Fair enough. So what does your personal fitness regime look like?

I run two times a week, and do strength training the remaining four days. I train for six days, and practice martial arts both with and without equipment on three days. Other than that I have regular MMA sessions as an instructor. 

Dr Komal Rao

And it’s been close to 20 years that you’ve been following it. Bravo! Speaking of which, your parents sure must have been very supportive, but what was the reaction of family and friends?

Everyone was a little surprised, and they didn’t really believe in the beginning that I (a delicate darling) could do that. But there was no negativity.

No instances of dealing with the so-called societal “concerns” also? 

There was a bit of skepticism from men around, they’d question – “oh, really you can fight”. But once they saw me train, the “but you are so delicate” comments and typical stereotyping got kicked out of the scene. The sarcasm from the tone disappeared. It never affected my confidence, but I decided to let my work clear their doubts.

Wise. And how important is winning for you?

Bruce Lee said, “The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or defeat. Let nature take its course, and your tools will strike at the right moment.”

Dr Komal Rao

I think of it as the Karma principle – you give your best, and all else will fall into place. Winning is essential, but one should always be prepared for both.

I read that your mother once had a head injury that caused her to suffer from amnesia, but it did not stop her from getting back. Tell me about your journey?  

Oh, her injury was real bad. But it is her never die attitude that has always kept her going. I haven’t had an injury as grievous as hers, but have had my share of broken ankles, toes, and fractures. It used to give a temporary setback to training sessions, but instead of feeling bad about the injury, I would find myself feeling bad about not being able to train.

How do you find yourself managing the other spheres of life?

I recently gave a TEDx Talk, in which I shared my opinion on how women are naturally good at multitasking, and handling the many aspects of life – be it the household responsibilities, work, or relationships and friendships. I don’t know how and why, and I could be wrong, but that is my belief. My mom is my biggest role model, and I have witnessed her excellent management skills. If I talk about myself also, there could be days and situations that pull me down temporarily, but I have always put in the necessary hard work and thoroughly enjoyed doing so.

Dr Komal Rao

The most challenging time of your journey was…?

Two years back I had broken my ankle. It was a bad dislocation injury and for two weeks I could not even get out of the bed, that followed by a long recovery period. Another time when I was very young, my haemoglobin level had gone very low and it had caused a lot of bleeding. It had taken me six months to return, and even then a mere 100m walk would make me pant. That along with managing studies had made things slightly difficult. But it is all a part and parcel of life. 

And before we bid adieu, would you give me a quick glimpse of your leisure time also?

I love to swim. And I really enjoy going on long treks, though given the regular training sessions, the opportunities are rare and few. Listening to music is another activity I love to indulge in. On asking her about the genre she listens to, Komal said, “I am just as varied a music person as I am a reader. I like listening to Rock, Pop, and there was a time when I would listen to Beatles and Elvis on loop. I also just as much enjoy listening to old Bollywood music, Rafi Ji, Lata Ji, Asha Ji, I had them all on my playlist.”

Dr Komal Rao

This article was first published on July 28, 2018. 

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