A few months ago, I mentioned how we were fortunate to have Sensei Rick Berry come to the Seattle area and share his practice with us. It was truly a great experience; the aikido, the camaraderie, the energy of the entire weekend was truly remarkable.
One of the greater joys of the weekend was discovering that Sensei Berry had created a book, Stepping Off the Mat. In it, he writes not so much about martial arts technique, but how his training and his mindset extends throughout everything he does. I’ve held off on writing about this book because I wanted to finish it. This was foolish of me, because while I have read the last page of this book, I don’t think I will ever truly “finish” it.
This book shares a similar trait to books such as The Book of Five Rings. By that I mean: you do not pick it up, read it over the course of a weekend, and then put it back on the shelf. No, this book you pick up, read a little, set down, think for a great while, and then pick up again a little later–maybe reading a new passage, maybe re-reading the same passage you had read earlier. What I have enjoyed about this book is that it is not an “aikido” book. (In fact, Sensei Berry has a great deal of martial arts experience beyond aikido.) It is a book of emotion, intellect, and thought. It is a book in which you can tell Sensei Berry has infused his passion and his life-philosophy.
As this blog perhaps indicates, I am fascinated with how the written word might be used to express some of the deep concepts that underly Aikido–that underly all martial arts. Stepping Off the Mat is the best example I have read in which these thoughts and concepts are articulated and discussed. Sensei Berry even provides many examples of where these thoughts came from. The entire book is filled with stories about his training, his teaching, and his life.
I think that some folks tend to look at books like these and hope that, by reading them, some sort of enlightenment may be found. I don’t think that Sensei Berry wrote this book in an attempt to “enlighten” anyone. However, I do think he wrote it to give those who read it the opportunity to enlighten themselves.
I am grateful that Sensei Berry took the time to write this book. I look forward to reading it repeatedly for many years to come.