FORT BENNING, Ga. - Remember what your mother taught you about hitting girls' Combatives instructor Spc. Teddra Rodriguez wants you to try, but you better be prepared to defend yourself.

Rodriguez is the first female instructor at Fort Benning's Army Combatives School.

At 5-foot-7 and 135 pounds, Rodriguez is used to being underestimated on the mats.

Though shorter and lighter than most of her male students, Rodriguez said the differences are more of an advantage than disadvantage.

"A guy would use his strength against you, throw you around, try to wear you out. You have to take your time - they'll get tired - and if you wait for the right moment you can submit them right away," the instructor said.

The real challenge, Rodriguez said, is when your partner is female.

"You have to slow down. They are more flexible, so you have to be more aware of what you're doing," she said.

Staff Sgt. Chris Gordon, who conducts instructor training certifications and program management at the school, said Rodriguez's presence serves as an inspiration to other female Soldiers interested in learning combatives.

"It's not just for males. This program isn't just for those in combat arms specialties, it's for everybody," he said.

Rodriguez is currently training to become certified as a primary instructor capable of implementing a combatives program.

Rodriguez's presence serves to dispel stereotypes among students.

"When we have female students in the class, a lot of the male students tend to make it easy on them. We tell them 'you need to ditch that because if this female was to go up against a male adversary she needs to know that the techniques we are teaching her will work and will save her life,'" said Sgt. 1st Class James Baxley, Rodriguez's platoon sergeant.

"There's a sparring ethic that needs to be used. You need to use the appropriate amount of force but that means you still need to challenge your opponent," Gordon said. "If you're not challenging them, they're not increasing their skill sets, they're not thinking, not learning, not adapting."

Rodriguez said her interest in combatives started two years ago, after returning from a combat deployment and being assigned to the 1st Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment, for a brief time. Sgt. 1st Class David Steinbach, her first sergeant at the time and now assigned to the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, motivated her to start attending schools. After going through level one training she "got hooked."

"He played a huge part in me getting through combatives and going through Airborne School," said Rodriguez, who asked him to pin on her Airborne wings last year.

In 2010, Rodriguez certified in combatives Levels 1 through 4 and was assigned to the school in November.

In her down time, she trains at two off-post gyms, is learning Jiu-Jitsu and raising three children with her husband, Staff Sgt. Joe Rodriguez.

She competed in the North American Grappling Association's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament Feb. 12, placing third in the Women's Gi Novice White Belt Lightweight division.

Rodriguez is looking forward to the Fort Benning and All-Army combatives tournaments. As an instructor, she's not eligible to compete, but may serve as a referee.