Every school event, party or gathering I attend for my children comes with a warning, no peanuts.
Peanut allergies are one of the most common food allergies children in the US today develop, and one of the most deadly. People have died from the smallest exposure to peanuts, necessitating families to pack an emergency episode-pen at all times, just in case.
There’s no argument about the mortal danger peanuts pose to anyone allergic to them, but the rise of peanut allergies raises the question, why are children in the US increasingly developing peanut allergies?
One prevailing hypothesis, the one that got me thinking about Systema training, is that children are not being exposed to peanuts in infancy because parents are afraid of peanut allergies.
Parents are worried about the danger of an allergic reaction so they are doing everything in their power to avoid any exposure to peanuts. The reasoning seems sound — avoid the dangerous food — however, avoidance is having the opposite of the intended effect.
Here’s what’s happening:
By avoiding the allergen, children’s immune systems are not growing accustomed to peanuts, so when they are exposed to peanuts at an older age their immune systems are unprepared for peanuts and over-react with a dangerous allergic reaction.
The prevailing mindset creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of being afraid of peanut allergies, leading them to avoid peanuts, which increases the likelihood of their children developing peanut allergies when they are older.
Current recommendations by the National Institute of Health are to expose young children to small amounts of peanut so their immune systems adapt to them and they do not elicit an allergic response. Small amounts of the allergen help train the immune system to tolerate peanuts.
This is the process we went through (with the help of an allergist) for my daughters, even though my eldest had some reaction to eating peanuts. Neither has any problem with eating peanuts now, which is a relief because we can all eat Thai food free from worry.
Systema skills are your martial arts immune system, adapting to and protecting you from threats with appropriate responses as needed.
Your martial arts immune system needs to be trained to function optimally; it needs to be exposed to threats at low levels, then in increasingly stronger, more intense levels until it can repel any attack.
Every martial art suffers from the disease of insularity, training only with others who train in the same methods of attack, have the same training mentality and follow the same, mostly unspoken rules of engagement, all of which weaken your martial arts immune system— you only get stronger defending attacks from someone who trains in your art or at your school.
So what’s the answer?
Like your immune system, Systema is adaptive by nature. To strengthen it, you must repeatedly expose it to various pathogens (martial artists of all sizes, skill levels and methods of attack) lest you be unprepared to deal with fast, aggressive, resisting attackers who will show you no respect.