Growing Up in the World of ESD


by Maeve Porter Holliday

ESD Global Level 1 Graduate, ESD Global Media & Communications Assistant



I started teaching Empowerment Self-Defense classes at the age of 12. It began with writing on flipcharts, getting class materials together, demonstrating skills and helping with roleplays. My mom started teaching ESD in the late 90s and, when I was old enough, helping her was a point of pride for me. My name is Maeve, and this is my account of growing up in the ESD world.

When I was little, my brother and I would do judo moves with my dad at that stage; I did not know what ESD was. I only knew that my mom taught people to protect themselves, particularly women. I took my first ESD class when I was in Kindergarten. I remember my class and teachers sitting crisscross applesauce in a circle on the ground as we chanted the 5 fingers of self-defense: Think, Yell, Run, Fight, Tell! We learned that we did not have to hug people if we didn’t want to and how to say what we needed. Earlier this year, I saw many echoes of these practices when I took the ESD Global Level 1 Instructor Training in Nashville. The key distinction was now powerful women were chanting the 5 fingers, and we understood the depth of meaning beyond those 5 words.


In elementary school, I started to understand that teaching ESD was not something that everyone’s moms did. My mom would come into my school and teach, sometimes to my embarrassment but I came to take pride in her work. At that age, I used ESD when I stood up for others on the playground, when I talked back to the boys who did not want girls to play soccer with them, and when I set boundaries with the little boy who kept kicking me.

When I was in middle school, I started to assist my mom with mother-daughter classes as well as classes for girl scouts and other kids. As the social pressures and emotions of being a middle school girl came to weigh on me, at least I knew what to do if I got into a physical altercation, even if I still did not know what to do about the boys rating girls’ bodies in the hallway.

Throughout high school and college, as my expertise increased, I taught classes for adults, high schoolers, college students and businesses. I also started assisting with media and tech for my mother’s organization. It was not until that period of my life that I truly applied some of the same tools I had been teaching, such as countering self-blame and victim-blaming and increasing self-worth, to myself. Deep down I knew that I did deserve the same as what I was teaching others, it took a little while for that knowledge to rise from my subconscious or for me to even recognize that these things were a problem within myself in the first place. Self-empowerment and confidence are ever evolving, whether you have grown up in the ESD world or you have just taken your first class, whether you have been engaged in empowerment at a different capacity or you are just now dipping your toes into this type of thought. I was lucky enough to have a very early start in empowerment, specifically ESD. Recently, I started working for ESD Global as a Media & Communications Assistant. It just goes to show that no matter what I decide to do in my future, the ESD skills I have learned and taught, as well as my work towards ending violence, will be present in some way.


My hope is that ESD becomes available to everyone, ideally at a young age. My experience with Empowerment Self-Defense is by no means the only way ESD can affect you, and it may or may not echo other people’s experiences growing up with an ESD instructor as a parental figure. I want to see people of all backgrounds, identities and abilities have access to trauma-informed and culturally relevant teaching with the necessary adjustments for everyone to participate and gain as much as they can out of ESD.

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