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The Unspoken Challenges of Being an ESD Instructor - Gentiana Susaj, ESD instructor Level 4, Aikido Shodan and a Human Rights Lawyer

For empowerment self-defense (ESD) instructors who dedicate themselves to assisting others or fulfilling responsibilities they have taken on, fatigue is a constant challenge that can consume them. Similarly, for martial arts or yoga teachers, exhaustion is an occupational risk. Thus, they must acknowledge this fatigue and approach it with mindful dedication to replenish their bodies and restore their energy. Engaging in mindful actions revitalizes the mind and infuses life with renewed vigor. Knowing when and how to change course, and whether to rely or not to rely on others who have committed, is a must to prevent further damage.




Welcome to the untold side of being an ESD Instructor - a side often overshadowed by the serene imagery and perceived power of the profession. While teaching ESD is undoubtedly fulfilling, it comes with its unique set of challenges that deserve recognition.


The "Always Strong" Myth: While ESD instructors might be proficient at managing stress levels and being resilient through their ESD practice, they are not immune to life's ups and downs, personal conflicts, or vulnerabilities. Demystifying this myth allows for a more realistic understanding of their humanity and the challenges they go through.


Income balance: Teaching or mentoring for minimum fees or even for free often forces them to face financial pressure, needing to teach multiple classes or seek additional income to make ends meet. Wearing many hats as a means to overcome this economic reality adds a significant layer of pressure on their shoulders, pushing them to constantly balance between financial stability and personal well-being.

Making oneself visible" online: In our era of digitization, ESD instructors often feel high pressure to establish an online presence, especially if there is insufficient digital proficiency. All this adds another level of complexity to their work. While understanding the importance of such presence, it still remains a challenge for many, affecting their day-to-day lives, as well as not sufficiently reflecting the hard work and the impact of their teachings.


Work-Life Balance in Freelance or not: For those who are freelance or leaders in their areas, the ongoing pressure to continually find and retain students, use non-conventional working hours or holidays for trainings, lack of traditional employment benefits like leave or job security can be daunting. These circumstances can lead to stress and work-life imbalance, taking a toll on their mental health and personal life.


External Expectations and Pressures: Society frequently confines ESD instructors within a limited stereotype - physically fit, martial arts experts, aggressively setting boundaries all the time. This erroneous view can lead to self-doubt or misperception from others. It's essential to question stereotypes and promote diversity within the ESD community. This fosters an environment that is more inclusive, respectful, and genuine, allowing instructors to celebrate their identities fully.


Setting Boundaries: While ESD classes can create a safe space where students feel at ease, inspired, and believed, setting clear boundaries and separating between professional and personal spaces can become complex. It is essential to remember that ESD instructors are not therapists, nor best friends. They need to keep a balance between their personal and professional life while ensuring a safe and respectful space for the students.

Balancing Tradition and Innovation: Adapting traditional ESD teachings to different groups that vary in age, gender, cultural norms, professional profiles, and others, as well as focusing on introductory ESD workshops instead of longer training while preserving ESD's essence poses a delicate challenge.


Managing Energy Levels: Regulating physical, emotional, and spiritual energy is essential to avoid burnout and keep students engaged. Teaching ESD requires action for self-care, self-awareness, and personal practice of the ESD teachings. However, the challenges mentioned above may not facilitate instructors in meeting such needs.


Despite these challenges, the journey of an ESD teacher is one of growth, resilience, and dedication to the practice. It's a path that requires self-awareness, compassion, and a commitment to lifelong learning. Having a supportive and reliable community can make all the difference in navigating these obstacles and thriving in the rewarding journey of empowering others through self-defense.


Gentiana Susaj, ESD instructor Level 4, Aikido Shodan and a Human Rights Lawyer with expertise on Anti-Human Trafficking and Refugee Protection. Leader of ESD Europe, a network of ESD and IMPACT instructors. Over the last 5 years, she has taught ESD and IMPACT to over 2000 individuals and trained trainers in countries like Albania, Spain, Kazakhstan, and Czechia.


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