It was the midst of Covid lockdown, and in fifteen minutes I had karate class…over Zoom.
It was not my ideal scenario.
The only room big enough in the house was the lounge — if I pushed the couch back right against the wall. The carpet floor made moving about difficult and doing the round kick left me with carpet burn. Even when I hooked my computer up to the bigger screen on my TV, it was still difficult to see what Sensei was doing. (Although, somehow he could still see us just as well as if we were there in person.) As for learning my new kata pattern? Forget it! When trying to follow on-screen, left becomes right, right becomes left, and the kata becomes very wrong. However, tonight was senior training and, as a sensei, I had to be there. Even though nobody was actually “there”. (Grumble, grumble.) Would Sensei even notice me on-screen amongst all the others? …Sensei would definitely notice if I wasn’t there. (Grumble, grumble.)
I was in a bad mood and just didn’t want to do it.
I tried to think of every excuse to get myself out of the lesson. I could find none. I tried to think of the positives — at least I didn’t have to travel; at least it is a short class. It didn’t work. I knew my attitude stank, but I didn’t care. In fact it felt good to indulge it.
I continued to grumble as I put on my uniform. Stupid Covid, spoiling everything. (Grumble, grumble.) I slip on my fresh, white gi pants. I’m not gaining anything standing in my living room, looking at a screen. (Grumble, grumble.) I put on my gi top and tie the strings to fasten it at my waist. I need to be in a real class. (Grumble, grumble.) I wrap my belt around my waist… this is stuuupid… and pull the knot tight. (Grumble, gru–)
Something clicked in my brain — and instantly the bad attitude was replaced with: let’s do this. I felt the change so suddenly and clearly that it shocked me. Almost.
Karate works on reflex. Instinct. Instant reaction. After nine years of training, hundreds — thousands — of lessons, countless times tying my belt, my brain was literally physically wired to switch to “fight mode” when I tied that knot.
* * *
The Bible — especially in the King James Version — often uses the phrase “gird your loins”, meaning “get ready for action”; which is essentially the same as saying, “tie your belt”. You could also say, “man up” or, as a friend of mine says, “put your big-girl knickers on”. (Thanks Ps. K!)
In the Bible times, people wore tunics…which weren’t very practical outfits when it came to working or fighting. So, one would “gird their loins” by hoisting up their tunic, tucking the fabric between their legs and tucking it into their belt or tying it around their waist. Not a very dignified image, but when you are out working in the field or fighting a battle fashion-sense is not really something about which you worry. (For a full description of what it means to “gird your loins”, check this illustration by the Art of Manliness.)
The apostle Paul uses this phrase when he writes about the armour of God in Ephesians 6:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth…”
–Eph. 6v10-14a emphasis added.
The New Revised Standard Version says, “fasten the belt of truth around your waist”.
Tie your belt.
The Old Testament often uses the phrase “gird your loins” to mean “get ready”. Get ready for battle, get ready to work, to run, to give an account to God…
That night, I was getting ready for my karate class, but I wasn’t ready: I was letting my mind — my thoughts and feelings — control me. It did not befit the uniform I was wearing (a good karate-ka controls the body and the mind) nor did it befit me as a follower of Christ. You were having a bad day. Who cares about your attitude? You may think. Everyone gets that way from time to time. You’re only human.
That’s not what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10v3-5:
“Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Yes, we all have our bad days. No, there is nothing wrong with having grumpy thoughts. However, I allowed myself to indulge in my bad attitude and I gave the negative thoughts free reign in my head. It’s not a problem if those thoughts enter the mind. It is a problem if you let them stay. Fortunately for me that physical act of tying my belt triggered something in my brain that booted those thoughts right out of there.
As I signed into Zoom, now ready for my karate class, my mind pondered the phrase “gird your loins” and I wondered how I — and others (yes, I knew right then it would be a blog) — might use a physical action (like tying one’s belt) for a spiritual effect. My usual go-to was to sing Raise a Hallelujah whenever the devil tried to attack my mind. (A tactic I failed to deploy that night.) What else could I do? What scriptures could I recite? What symbol or action could I use as a trigger to shift my focus from the things of this world and onto God?
In the Jewish faith they use tefilin — little black boxes filled with scripture which they tie to their forehead and arm when they pray — as a physical outworking of a spiritual act. (“Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deut. 6v8-9 NIV.) They also put scriptures inside the mezuzah boxes on the door frames of their houses, touching the mezuzah whenever they enter the room. These simple yet significant acts serve as constant reminders of our God.
There are many times that I don’t feel like doing the things I should be doing. There are many times where others stuff gets in the way and I become too busy or I just forget. (I am a little embarrassed to say that even writing this blog is one of them. I should have done it months ago!) Even so, I cannot let my feelings — my “flesh and blood” or “human standards” — dictate to me, because my real fight lies in the spiritual realm.
It is amazing to see how a small and seemingly insignificant physical action —such as tying your karate belt — can have spiritual results. “For the weapons of our warfare are not merely human…” it says. This means that simple physical act actually becomes spiritual weapon! (And don’t forget it is a fight Jesus has already won!)
The apostle Peter encourages us to “gird your loins” in a spiritual and mental sense:
“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’”
–1 Peter 1v13-15 NRSV
As a karate-ka I wear my belt as a symbol of who I am, but also as a reminder of how I must conduct myself. (“Grumble, Grumble…” is not part of the uniform!) As children of God we do the same. Wear the full armour of God; take every thought captive —all the time, and not just when it suits you! Don’t let your physical world control you, but rather use those physical actions to spur you on in your spiritual fight.
Put your big-girl knickers on.
Gird your loins.
Tie. Your. Belt!