“Styles And The Death Of An Art” by Nev Sagiba

“What style do you do?”

How often do we hear this inanity?

“I don’t do styles,” and that is my answer.

A style is a way to cripple a living art, brick it in with parochial prejudice and limit it with the death of a questioning mind.

Dare not depart from dogma, the imprisoning disease of ages, and you die.

Commonsense dictates we look at everything and draw our own conclusions for today. Then do what makes sense for today, each day. In all things there is no other way.

Even the most case-hardened and calcified mental cripples end up departing from their teacher’s art, even when in their imagination they are mimicking it exactly as they think their teacher did it.

The vast chasm of skill puts the lie to this self delusion.

YOU CAN ONLY DO THINGS YOUR WAY and heaven forbid that this too ever becomes a dead style.

There is always a more refined way. If you don’t get this fact you will never even start, let alone get off the ground. Irrespective how long you think you have been training.

A living art can only reflect one person: YOU!

No one else on the planet, now, in the past or ever again will uniquely and identically have your exact predispositions, attitudes, experiences and dimensions. Put more simply, a short man does it different to a tall one, just as a corpulent one does it different to a thin one. A strong person will move differently to a weak one. A flexible to a tight one. And so on. The variables and combinations are endless.

When you stick an arm in the air, take a step or grip, it is not a “this ryu” or a “that ryu” or a “this ha” or “that ha” unique way of doing it. It is simply an arm help up in the air and a step and a grip. That’s all. Nothing more and nothing less.

An iriminage done well, by any other name simply works well. A bad one irrespective of label, title, lineage, myths, fables, tall tales of the past and assigned mystical attributes, is a sloppy non-event. Simple as that.

When you build a wall around something living and interconnected, it starves and dies. Styles are dead. Don’t join them on the scrap heap. Learn from them and move on.

You live, but not if you get into that parochial enclosure and stop your mind working. Thai’s not what was meant by that ever so bad misinterpretation constructed as “no-mind.” Only the dead have no mind. Even the dumbest living clod has mind. It’s there to be used, not switched off.

When you think and question and act without convoluted analytics but clear noticing, then you can begin to notice something. If you are not critical of yourself and your teachers, you are a follower in a cult. There is no midpoint. If that’s your thing, far be it for me to take it away, but when the blind lead the blind each generation gets blinder. It’s a dangerous path.

Question everything if you intend to become better. Otherwise don’t worry about it, it does not matter. People who mimic heroes out of context are sad, lonely and a pathetic sight.

In the end, you can only forge your own path, live your own life and navigate the unique cards dealt you at birth. The masters are dead and gone and the few still living occupy the space no one else can.

By all means learn from teachers and this with absolute respect, but in the end you have to be yourself, occupy your own jurisdiction, yourself, and live and practice as best as you know how for you, for today, each day; or you will become nobody and the art will die.

Your art can only reflect you, and no one else. The valid parts will continue in transmission of the art and the irrelevant parts will drop away naturally over time, as they do.

Use the tools the real masters left behind to navigate your own life and your own training with open eyes. That is the Living Do or Tau that leads towards the Supreme Excellence by excelling daily in the things we do.

No more than that can be expected of any human being.

Nev Sagiba


  1. Ted Goodman says:


  2. Two things about style. Mistakes are easy to see. The sum of a teacher’s remaining mistakes are probably their distinctive style.

    Second, system is not style. Saito sensei left us a system. If followed diligently and thoughtfully it will lead to an understanding of aikido techniques. But while many people studied with Saito sensei, their individual styles are not identical for the reasons outlined by Sagiba sensei above.

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