Devices are not Self-Defence

keysAcross almost all economic sectors, you’ll encounter industry-specific misinformation, ranging from misunderstanding to outright misrepresentation. The self-defence industry is not exempt, and is perhaps more susceptible to distortion than others. It tends to be emotionally laden, addressing high-stakes scenarios of life-saving and the protection of vulnerable sectors, and this, combined with a lack of standardization and regulation, leads to the potential for a great deal of consumer confusion.

Let’s take a look into some of the issues that pertain to the self-defence industry and consider ways to avoid common pitfalls.

Lack of Regulation

Many disciplines that directly impact a client’s health are regulated municipally, provincially, or federally. Obvious examples include branches of the health-care system, involving allopathic and naturopathic doctors, dentists, chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, etc. Professionals in these fields are required to obtain a standard education, pursue continuing education, and adhere to a set of basic principles. Licensing demands the successful completion of exams, and there are avenues for clients to lodge complaints in cases of alleged misconduct.

Conversely, unregulated professions – those that are not overseen by an “umbrella” body, do not provide the same assurances of standardization. While practitioners may still be required to obtain a specialized education, the curricula and exams (if any) are not overseen by a governmental body. The conditions under which services are provided are similarly not overseen. There is, accordingly, more opportunity for variation from one service-provider to another in terms of education, knowledge, professional standards, and currency of certification.

For a consumer, the difference between regulated and unregulated industries can be difficult to navigate. Designations that one would reasonably assume should be regulated are sometimes not. Take, for example, the dietitian/nutritionist distinction. In Ontario, only the former is regulated. If you visit a dietitian, the advice that you will receive is based on an agreed-upon set of principles that the professional will have learned through standardized education. You have reason to believe that if you seek a second opinion from another dietitian, the advice will be similar, based on the same foundations. The “nutritionist” designation, on the other hand, is not regulated in Ontario, meaning that the term is not protected by a governmental body. Various different schools exist that offer “nutritionist” certifications, and their curricula can vary widely in quality and length. You cannot assume that two nutritionists, especially from different schools, will have the same education or provide the same calibre of advice.

What this means is that the consumer must, when dealing with an unregulated profession, do his/her own homework. The phrase “buyer beware” applies here. While you can hope that general legal protections apply and that most service providers are upstanding, there can be huge variation in quality between them. It is up to you to research important criteria.

Basic Research

With specific regard to the self-defence industry, which is unregulated, there are several important criteria to investigate. You have the right (and it is, as above, your responsibility) to ask questions of any provider with whom you’re interested in training. Some of the points to consider:

1 – How long has your instructor been involved in the discipline, both as a student                   him/herself and as an instructor?

2 – Under whom did your instructor train? Who were his/her teachers? What is their              background?

3 – What sort of certification course did your instructor take? How long was it, where,            and with which organization?

4 – What sort of continuing education does your instructor do, where, and with                         whom?

5 – Does your instructor work with different populations?

6 – Does your instructor and/or his/her school have testimonials from existing                           students?

Specifically with regard to certifying organizations themselves, you have a right to know how long that organization has been in existence and who founded it. One of the drawbacks of unregulated industries is that schools and federations can pop up at any time, independently, without the benefit of recognized accreditation, history, or attestation. In other words, anyone can hang his/her sign as an unregulated professional or establish a certifying body. Knowing something of the history can help you to avoid working with someone who may not be as skilled as you’d hope a teacher/practitioner/service provider would be.

It’s also useful, in the self-defence industry, to understand student progression. Is there a set amount of time between tests? Is it mandatory for students to attend a certain number of classes before testing? Are level curricula written down, and can a student access those materials? You want to be sure that you’re not “paying for belts.”

Gimmicks 

As mentioned, the self-defence industry is an emotional one. A parent looking for a program for his/her bullied child is already under stress, a veteran with PTSD is dealing with enormous emotional load, a victim of abuse arrives to class with specific worries. Self-defence is rarely taken up as a simple hobby in the way that competitive sports often are. The desire to feel safe is intrinsic to us as human beings, and we go to great lengths to fulfill it. At times, we leap impulsively at promises of safety, which can itself make us vulnerable. As an organization involved in Krav Maga, we find these promises very disturbing because they are largely false, and worse, they are easy to credit unless a consumer has some training background.

There is an enormous market for safety devices, for example. Ranging from motion-sensitive cameras to deterrent sprays, from credit-card knives to whistles, we accept manufacturers’ reassurances that these items will keep us safe. Some devices work on the premise that if enough noise is made, helpful bystanders will be alerted, and an attack will be prevented. Sadly, this fails to take into consideration bystander apathy. Consumers are lulled into a sense of false security, believing that if they use their devices – whistles, sirens, horns, etc., fellow citizens who hear the call will rush to assist. This sense of comfort is unfounded, and prevents men and women from pursuing more robust (and reliable) methods of self-defence.

Secondly, as our students know from realistic in-studio training, it is not always possible to reach a device when you’re threatened, even if it is securely on your person. You may believe very strongly that you’ll always be able, for example, to reach into your pocket or purse, but this is pure fantasy. If you’ve ever been surprised by an acquaintance greeting you unexpectedly, you’ll know that even friendly overtures can be sudden and surprising, and leave you momentarily frozen. In the case of an attack like a bearhug, for example, if you don’t know how to use your limbs and trunk to loosen and escape the grab, you will absolutely not have the time or skills to reach/use a device. For this reason, “safety” tools like beacons have limited applicability in real life. Device-failure, reliance on batteries or power, and the possibility of loss are also considerations.

Even advanced technology has begun to make promises of safety. “Hidden” distress features on smartphones, apps that can be opened and “pointed at” an attacker such that a warning can be sternly issued while a picture is taken, and GPS tracking assure users that they will be able to call for help, deter assailants, and document incidences. All of this again assumes that the device will be accessible during a violent encounter. It assumes that a potential victim will have the luxury of time and space to activate key features. It assumes that any of the above will make a difference to someone who has already made a decision to harm. If principles of decency and an awareness of prison are not enough to deter a rapist, for instance, pointing a smartphone at him/her with a recorded message (in however authoritative a voice) is going to accomplish tragically little. Again, these devices and programs make promises of safety that are simply unrealistic.

Some of these messages are not just misleading, but actively harmful. The advice to hold keys between fingers, Wolverine-style, can cause significant and lasting damage to the victim in and of itself. Unfortunately, this advice is widely disseminated, and without at least basic exposure to legitimate self-defence training, a person is likely to follow it.

The take-away message is this: do your homework.

Questions to Ask

Find a school and/or instructor who has long-term involvement as both a student and as an instructor of the discipline.

Research the purpose of your discipline, as it’s taught today. While some traditional arts may have been designed for self-defence a thousand years ago, unless they have evolved to counter modern threats (i.e. guns, sharps such as syringes, and vehicles), they are no longer as applicable in street-based violence. If you’re looking for a competitive art, keep in mind that refereed environments are not the same as real life. On the street, there will be no timer, no ring, and no judges to evaluate a “tap out.”

Look into the history of any organization with which a school or instructor is involved.

Consider instructors’ continuing education.

Evaluate the atmosphere of a club that you join. Ego should not be present in a facility dedicated to real learning, no matter how “kick-ass” the system may seem.

And beware of gadgets, gimmicks, and devices that claim to work self-defensively. As above, a device is not self-defence, and the only reliable tool that you have to use in case of a violent encounter is you. Both physically and mentally, there are no short-cuts to training in a legitimate discipline, such as Krav Maga.

 

Yours in health and safety,

The Academy Team

 

 

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The Real Benefits of Maintaining Fitness through the Holiday Season

3d Snowman lifting weightsThe period between Thanksgiving and New Year is a fully loaded one. There’s a commercial push, to be sure, that encompasses every market devised by humankind. There are religious drives. There is themed music, and the aesthetic of most public venues is entirely revamped. It is a period of time that encourages us to have shared, almost singular focus on hygge – coziness, warmth, a feeling of contentment in quaint pleasures.

Commercialization of our coldest months aside, most of us enjoy the sights and sounds. No matter what holiday you’re celebrating, the desire to celebrate is the season’s common thread.

When we differ, it’s in how we process the extra bustle. The intense focus on merriment and festivity can have a counterintuitive effect for some: it can be burdensome to those who have more on their plates than they should, and the “necessary” holiday preparations can become simply another task to add to an already overpopulated to-do list. For those who have difficult family associations with the season, it can be similarly challenging. Even for those who genuinely enjoy the added activity, it can be hard to unplug long enough to take care of important but “mundane” matters.

As it turns out, there’s a one-size-fits-(almost) all way to ensure that you enjoy the season fully, from start to finish, with lasting energy, vitality, and optimism. You may not want to hear about the benefits of exercise while contemplating a mug of eggnog and a few (more) shortbread cookies, but a shift in your holiday thinking will yield enormous results both during and after the festivities.

A useful article that we mentioned on the Facebook page can be found here. Of the many excellent suggestions made, the author proposes that readers devise and implement a new holiday tradition – only this addition is to be a fitness-based one. There are running organizations that maintain holiday events, for example, and provide online logs for participants. Getting friends and family members involved makes this sort of undertaking less a “to do” and more “togetherness.” It just happens to improve physical and mental health at the same time, making us less prone to holiday burnout. It also makes us less likely to fall prey to the frustrating cycle of overindulgence followed by the yo-yo phenomenon of New Year resolution-setting. If you’ve already got a head-start on your fitness goals, for instance, you begin the new year with a profound sense of accomplishment that not even the most feverish of good intentions can rival.

On a serious note, it’s not just during the holidays that exercise has considerable influence on how we feel. An article published by the American Psychological Association, entitled “The exercise effect,” lists several studies that demonstrate that exercise can be as effective as pharmaceuticals at treating depression, and in some cases, has been shown to have longer-lasting effects. The article goes on to note that exercise has thus far been a terribly under-studied and under-prescribed method of treating depression and anxiety, given the tremendous results of those studies that have investigated its potency.

James Blumenthal, a clinical psychologist who is cited in the above article, states that “[t]here’s good epidemiological data to suggest that active people are less depressed than inactive people. And people who were active and stopped tend to be more depressed than those who maintain or initiate an exercise program….”

A quick reading of Dr. Blumenthal’s findings, as well as a perusal of related data across different studies suggest that a) activity does not have to be of a particular kind or at Olympic intensity to qualify as beneficial, and b) consistency is key. Your commitment to your well-being deserves respect as a genuinely effective means of physical and psychological health-care, and as such, needs to be given as much weight over the holidays and throughout the year as any other seasonal pursuit.

We’d like to encourage you – perhaps challenge you – to make fitness an integral part of the festive season this year. Don’t deprive yourself of any holiday pleasures – simply add a new tradition that will make all the rest brighter. We’ll be hosting “BYOB – Bring Your Own Buddy” again at both the Mississauga and Maple studios in January, and that’s certainly a wonderful time to share your appreciation of Krav Maga with loved ones. That being said, there’s no reason not to get started now. Current members are able to bring friends and family members in for a five-class trial free, and we strongly believe in the power of working out and learning together. We invite everyone to make our training their new holiday tradition.

With very warm wishes to all,

The Academy Team

 

 

Educational Blocks & Plan “B” Techniques

Krav Maga has a bit of a PR problem – any quick search on YouTube will yield a dozen results, most involving large men in military fatigues and a disproportionate amount of rifle-wielding.

It’s not that Krav Maga doesn’t cover military, para-military, and police techniques – it certainly does, and law-enforcement services around the world make extensive use of Krav Maga training. That being said, civilian Krav Maga is actually more nuanced than its military counterpart, which makes the singular focus of most social media somewhat inaccurate.

The threats and dangers that most men, women, and children face frequently fall into a “grey zone.” The “grey zone” is an area that encompasses situations that make a person very uncomfortable, but are not so severe or so traumatizing as to be easily labelled in black and white fashion as, say, “assault.” Sometimes, analyzing and responding to a “grey” threat appropriately is more challenging than dealing with an obviously life-threatening situation. In cases of clear-cut threats to one’s life, it is much easier to recognize that an immediate, dynamic reaction is required. Otherwise, when the threat is less pronounced, the options for response increase in number and experience is required to determine which option is best. This is where “soft techniques,” which we’ll refer to as “educational blocks,” become so useful.

Because Krav Maga is a defensive system, our primarily focus is to help you to keep yourself safe. In order to do that, we teach awareness as a first step. It is vital to be observant of your environment (both the persons and objects in it, as well as your position in relation to them); this is key to avoiding problems before they begin. We advocate using the knowledge of Krav Maga techniques only when absolutely necessary, and the response that you have must be measured – it must use only as much force as necessary and no more. It is relatively easy to teach students to punch and kick, but these techniques are not always necessary or appropriate, and they don’t always address the concerns that the average person has about “grey zone” problems that they’re most likely to encounter on a day-to-day basis. This is where the elegance, simplicity, and effectiveness of “educational blocks” really shine.

Precisely what is an Educational Block?

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An “educational block” is a low-key technique that produces minimal damage to an assailant and requires little movement. It is, however, sufficiently unpleasant that an attacker should recognize that the intended victim is not as easy a target as anticipated. This is the “educational” component of the technique. It is, essentially, one-step deterrence. On your part, it demonstrates that a) you are attempting to de-escalate the situation and are not reacting irrationally or needlessly violently, and b) you likely possess the skills to end the confrontation to your advantage if peaceful resolution fails.

Educational blocks are the logical stepping stones between situational awareness and what might be termed “Plan B” techniques – more aggressive techniques to be used in cases of greater danger.

Educational blocks include, but are not limited to:

  • pressure on the thumb to release unwelcome and prolonged handshakes
  • pressure near the interclavicular ligament to release an aggressive shirt-grab
  • soft techniques using pressure against the thumb to release hand-grabs
  • “wind-milling” to release shirt-grabs

None of these techniques require tremendous physical strength, great height, or a weight advantage. As is always the case in Krav Maga, applied knowledge of basic anatomy and physiology is what allows a practitioner to free him/herself from an undesirable situation, and this is never more true than it is in the case of educational blocks, which involve subtle movement. You’ll also notice that no punching, kicking, throwing, groundwork, or other more forceful techniques are mentioned, as these fall into the “Plan B” category, to be used if gentler “education” is ineffective or a more obvious threat is made immediately.

Why do we need Educational Blocks? What Grey Zone?

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In a country as stereotypically polite as Canada, we’re often so concerned with not giving offence that we sometimes allow others to compromise our personal space in order not to come off as “crazy,” “mean,” “angry,” or “aggressive.” We sacrifice our safety for social grace; unfortunately, there are those on the street with sinister intent who take advantage of this good-heartedness. Soft techniques offer us a comfortable middle-ground between surrendering our well-being and reacting in a way that is unrealistically aggressive for the average man, woman, or child.

Perhaps it’s a trip on a crowded bus or train and someone makes an attempt to hold on to your hand. Perhaps it’s a business meeting in which an “innocent” handshake becomes prolonged and painful. It may be a misunderstanding that becomes heated but hasn’t yet become more physical than a shirt-grab meant to direct you (albeit unpleasantly). In most of these scenarios, we feel apprehensive, but we want very badly to believe that nothing more serious will occur. We are torn between wanting to remove ourselves from the situation and wondering if there really even is a problem or if it’s “all in our heads.” If we react too quickly, too strongly, we worry about being seen as “not all there,” though we realize that the alternative – not reacting – leaves us vulnerable to treatment that we haven’t consented to and that we don’t want to continue. It’s a terrible spot to be in because it feels as though there isn’t an easy way out.

These are the times that knowing low-profile, simple, soft-techniques gives us the peace of mind that we can extricate ourselves from unpleasant scenarios without unnecessary drama. The confidence that we gain from knowing that we can successfully look after ourselves – no matter how “tricky” a situation is – is enormous.

Thus, no rifles and no bellowing, but purely effective nonetheless. The beauty of Krav Maga rests in how comprehensive it is, how many options it gives us to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. Watch for these excellent educational blocks in class!

The Academy Team

 

 

 

The Value of a Training Community

We get a lot of inquiries about private training, and while our team does offer one-on-one classes, we try to encourage students to train in a group environment.

There’s huge psychological value in being part of a community of like-minded people, but the primary reason that we suggest that students train in a group environment is that it supports better-rounded responses. As any long-term student will tell you, a few things inevitably happen if you train exclusively with the same partner:

  • you become aware of his/her areas of strength and weakness, and learn to avoid the former and exploit the latter, which routinizes your own responses
  • you learn how much force you need to exert to overcome that particular partner, and tend not to extend beyond that
  • you are relaxed, knowing that you communicate well with your partner and have developed a comfortable relationship; this creates an artificial environment that in no way prepares you for the physiological and psychological stress of a threatening situation outside the studio

Just as it’s important to train with more than one partner, it’s critical to train with more than one type of partner. A case in point – one of our female students recently spent a period of time training almost exclusively with other women in class. Without doubt, she progressed in terms both of technique and conditioning; however, it wasn’t until she came to class one day and happened to pair up with a larger male student that she realized that she’d become reliant on working with those of roughly her own physical stature. She found that, despite knowing the techniques being used, she couldn’t perform well enough to defend herself. It took this student some time to re-calibrate, which she did by working with a variety of body types.

The key piece here is adaptation. You will adapt only to those stresses that you face. If your training does not require you to overcome new situations/challenges, you will plateau – this is true in fitness and it is true in Krav Maga. “Plateauing” for us means that you will not be able to address threatening situations as successfully as possible. The overall moral is that, in order to be truly prepared for eventualities on the street, you need to train as realistically as you can – as we’ve said before, you’ll always react in real life in the same way that you train in the studio. You can now see why working with a variety of people is so vital – you can’t predict who is going to approach you, so it’s critical that you be able to deal with as wide a range of attackers as possible.

As a side-note, it’s actually for this reason that we take a different approach than most studios and gyms to women’s-only training. Put simply, we discourage it. This may sound odd, given that women report assault in exponentially higher numbers than men. If anyone should be training, it’s women. It’s important to understand that we’re not discouraging the training itself – but we do take issue with it being divided by sex. We prefer that female students train in co-ed environments – we understand the statistics, and we can see that women are rarely attacked by other women. Krav Maga is not designed to be a sport – it’s a system meant for real application, and we would be doing women an enormous disservice by having them train in a same-sex environment that does nothing at all to mimic the conditions under which they routinely face threats. We try to build bridges to more realistic co-ed training for women who feel unsure of getting started by offering time-limited women’s-only intros, which are intended to lead participants into our regular classes upon completion.

Whether you’re a veteran student or just starting out, keep these principles of variety and adaptation in mind, and make a point next class of pairing up with someone you haven’t worked with before – it will do your training a world of good.

The Academy Team

 

Assault, and Worrying for our Children

Many of us train because we want to look after loved ones. We feel that the safety of our families is something that we can control, and so we learn systems of self-defence that give us the skills that we need to influence the outcome of dangerous situations.

Self-defence (specifically Krav Maga, in our case) is like insurance – it’s best to start working with it before an incident occurs. While Krav Maga is certainly meant to be learned quickly, because it is based on our natural reflexes, it nevertheless requires time to master. Advanced planning provides a unique sort of peace of mind. The time to figure out what to do is not when you’re in the middle of a threatening situation, when your physiological and psychological responses are working against you. Consistent training is what stands between panic and level-headed, efficient problem-solving. The earlier you start, the more you know, the more you can do, the better protected you and your family will be.

We worry so much about our loved ones, most especially about the children in our immediate and extended families. We do our utmost to protect children, and for members of our studios, that includes teaching children the skills that they, themselves, need to keep themselves safe in circumstances when we may not be present (at school, on public transport, when out with friends, etc.).

Because this focus on safety, this worry, is so pervasive, we found a recent blog post by a mother who herself experienced assault very poignant. Bethany of Latched and Attached is a well-known blogger who writes candid pieces about the challenges of motherhood…and whose concern about her children’s well-being is one that we all share. She experienced rape almost a decade ago, and its effects continue to impact her view of raising her children. We want to share this blog with you, with the warning that it could trigger strong emotion in many readers and contains mention of sensitive material.

If you, like so many family members, want to live with greater peace of mind and greater reassurance that you are doing everything in your power to keep your children safe, contact us. Our children’s programming deals with real-world problems that occur outside the walls of the studio. We build strong, responsible, self-confident, and safe families, and we begin with children as young as four. As one of our members commented so accurately, “violence is what happens when you don’t train.” We couldn’t agree more.

Please read Bethany’s post here: http://latchedandattached.com/rapeandmotherhood/

The Academy

Injury-Prevention for Fighters

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If any of you in Krav Maga  have ever taken your aches, pains, or injuries to a therapist, you may have found that the demands that you make of your body are not well understood. You may have tried to describe “fighting form” and why it’s so important to you to get back into it, but the desire to push through injury to continue to learn something that you love is not always easily explained.

Disciplines as physically rigorous as Krav Maga can lead to injury if they’re not paired with restorative practices. A close analogy is heavy weight-lifting. The more you do, the more flexibility you need, the more targeted nutrition you need, and the better quality rest you need in order to sustain and maintain your training, and to ensure success. Without even knowing it, those of us who train regularly are making quiet athletes of ourselves each class…and no athlete leaves his/her performance to chance.

We are incredibly lucky to be hosting our mentor in physical well-being, Dr. Kirsten Wishloff, on June 9th. She’ll be joining us for a hands-on, interactive workshop from 7-9 PM at the Mississauga studio. We’re extremely excited because Dr. Wishloff works with athletes of a variety of backgrounds, specifically including those in “fighting sports.” She works on identifying and correcting areas of imbalance that form on account of repeated, typical movements in these sports and ensure that these imbalances do not progress to chronic injury. The ultimate goal is to keep an athlete functioning at optimal levels, and as we begin to use our bodies in more complex ways, that can take specialized help. Dr. Wishloff is an incredible source of information on sports therapies, chiropractic work, acupuncture, and a variety of related methodologies that can improve our health and training.

To help you to understand Dr. Wishloff’s approach, we asked her for a quick interview, which we’ll share with you here.

Why is it important to do sports-specific therapy?

All sport leaves the body with imbalances. To a certain extent, these imbalances actually help the athlete to excel in a given sport. However, the body has a limit as to how much adaptation it can do before structures begin to break down. Pain can be understood as a ‘lagging indicator,’ which means it is actually one of the last signs that there is a problem. Movement and function are used as ‘leading indicators,’ meaning they can identify a problem before it is noticed as pain.

How does this sort of therapy make training sustainable?

The type of therapy required depends on the issues being experienced and the sport. A balance of soft-tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, motor-pattern rehabilitation, and nutrition is a good place to start from a physical standpoint, but there are many other forms of therapy that can be of benefit depending on the issues and healthcare beliefs. Regardless of therapy method, the idea is to catch problems of imbalance before they become problems of pain. This prevention creates healthy tissue and promotes longevity in both sport and life.

What concerns have you dealt with in those who pursue “fighting”/martial arts/grappling, etc?

Common issues in those who pursue combat sport are global rotational imbalances, shoulder stability, hip mobility, and wrist injuries.

What is your general approach when dealing with new clients?

My approach to care emphasizes movement and function. Often if these two things are properly managed, the pain goes away on its own. New patient intakes begin with a detailed health history and an in-depth understanding of past health conditions. I then perform an active movement assessment, followed by a hands-on assessment of how the joints and muscles move passively, without muscle activation. From this information I create personalized plans that grow and change with the individual to ensure their body continues to adapt in a healthy, sustainable way.

How do you involve clients in their own recovery/maintenance/prevention?

The care programs I create are dynamic. They challenge tissues to become progressively stronger and less imbalanced. I typically let my patients use their body to guide how often they come in for care. Not all body’s respond to therapy the same, and there are times when more frequent care is required to get the desired results.

For more information and to register for Dr. Wishloff’s workshop, please e-mail sarah@canadakm.com

The Academy Team

Summer Camp is Coming!

summercamp

50 days until school’s out for the year! Are you and your kids ready?

Well, the kids are of course ready, but do you know what they’ll be up to in July and August?

This year, we’re taking a more dynamic approach to our regular summer-camp offerings. In addition to Krav Maga training, we’ll be hosting a variety of fun and exciting activities all focused on building skills, confidence, and a sense of personal development. We’re looking at art, cooking and nutrition, community-building, overall fitness, and more.

We need some help, though. It’s important to us that we know how we can make your lives as parents, guardians, and family members easier. We want this to be a positive and memorable summer for everyone, so we’re asking you to fill out a survey (link here: SUMMER CAMP SURVEY) so that we can organize all of the details and get registration information out ASAP.

Please take a few minutes to let us know how we can optimize the camp experience for your family. Once we have that info, we’ll get registration links sent out in short order, and we’ll be well on our way as an Academy community to giving the kids a camp experience to enjoy and remember!

Best,
The Academy Team