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Stepping Off The Mat

Book Summary:

While this book is directed to the serious martial artist, it is also of interest to the countless numbers of people who always wanted to do a martial art but for some reason or another did not. It is this audience that can benefit by using the martial arts principles contained in each chapter for practical reasons in everyday life. Through practical martial arts philosophy the reader will gain confidence and a positive outlook on life that a sincere martial artist possesses.

I have written it in a semi-biographical format, drawing upon not just my experiences but also those of my students. The reader will see how the training I received under my instructors helped shape my mind and set me upon a path of positive mind and purpose. Finally, this book is about removing the self-imposed limits on the scope of understanding regarding our minds and bodies, so that we experience and cause positive transformation in ourselves and ultimately in the universe.

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Review by: Robert Choy

Rick Berry’s Stepping Off The Mat follows his remarkable 40+ year long martial arts career from karate and taekwondo ultimately to Kokikai Aikido. During this journey, Sensei Berry has acquired quite a few pearls of wisdom which he generously shares with us through this book. I have had the pleasure of training with Sensei Berry on several occasions over the past 8 years and I have always been impressed with the tremendous intensity and the irrepressible positivity that he brings to the mat. These qualities also come shining through in this book that is as much about martial arts training as it is about Berry’s answer to the fundamental question that all martial artists (and all human beings) struggle to answer: How am I going to Live?

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Review by: Aaron Shapiro

Too often we do not apply what we preach and practice. Too often, what we practice is not practical or grounded in our daily reality. For most of us, our "daily reality" does not reasonably include intentionally squaring off against known violence. However, it does usually include conflict on many levels and from many viewpoints, as well as several layers of often disturbing emotional content.

Sensei Rick Berry has intentionally and successfully structured his martial discipline to revolve around core principles that are equally effective whether contemplating and responding to an exercise on the mat, pursuing your career, being confronted in a bar, or being jumped on a city street. He realized early that there is no fundamental difference between any aspect or experience of life. The result is that his approach is equal parts of how and why an attack and response actually work, and the proper frame of mind and emotional state before, during and after.

"Stepping off the Mat" encapsulates this effective and necessary approach rather beautifully. Like aikido itself, the writing is relaxed, elegant and full of "leading" principles. Rick Sensei explains by prose and parable that the mind and spirit are your first order of business; the body will then follow. As a practical example, would you guess that when Rick Sensei honestly speaks of practical harmony in the midst of controversy that he is also one of the most effective strikers you will ever meet? He would tell you that as his mind, body and spirit have cultivated greater relaxation over the years, his deliverable power has also increased. I know this as direct fact--his "soft" punches penetrate so deeply while delivering so much power, it literally takes days for a bruise to form, even though the recipient is immediately incapacitated.

"Stepping off the Mat" is an accessible road map to the path of an eminent martial artist. We could all be rather proud of ourselves if we could cultivate but a portion of Rick Sensei's skills and understanding. A thorough understanding of "why" you do what you do is the first and perhaps most important step for any pursuit. Rick Sensei has chosen to share his path and his vision. Your study of his work and his approach is more than well worth the time. You should expect that it will open many doors and illuminate many paths for your own future studies.

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Review by: David Shevitz

In Stepping Off the Mat, Sensei Rick Berry writes not so much about martial arts technique, but how his training and his mindset extends throughout everything he does. Initially, I 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, sit 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 just 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.

I have always been 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.

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Review by: Michael Robinson, M.S. Counseling

I have studied under Master Rick Berry for over 10 years, and his book "Stepping Off The Mat" is a must read for true martial artists. It's an inspiring-philosophical-introspective of Master Berry's life journey to positively impact and transform others via the edification of their mind, body and spirit.

"Stepping Off The Mat" is a true American tale of triumph, heartache, and absolute commitment to the pursuit of excellence.

Michael Robinson, M.S. Counseling

* Minister - Sharon Baptist Church

* Radio Talk Show Host - WDAS 1480AM

* Adjunct Professor - Eastern University

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