“There Is No Rank,” by Nev Sagiba

“Dead with the illusion of “honour,” or actually living an honorable
and respectful life doing useful and constructive things instead.”

There is no rank. Merit is as merit does. Respect is a mutual thing otherwise its just an act. Skill levels do not arise from the colour of a belt, a hakama, a lineage or other names to be dropped or a certificate.

Real and actual skill is its own reward. A badge, name dropping and other devices denote insecurity and doubt about one’s own real skill level. In the field of battle, the warrior does not look for your signs of rank but for openings. If you have them he will utilize them. Despite all the tinsel accolades you will die.

If you stop training, as the certificates and medals gathers dust, you will get fat, lazy, soft, uncoordinated and you will forget. And die more slowly but nevertheless, die.

I suppose it depends on where your sense of values lie. Dead with the illusion of “honour,” or actually living an honorable and respectful life doing useful and constructive things instead.

Skill arises from dedication to regular and sincerely attentive practice and living a constructively useful and productive life. There is no glory whatsoever in being a pawn for madmen and dying young for nothing. None whatsoever. And that’s one lesson when learn the hard way does not beget any useful and practical wisdom, except for perhaps the onlooker.

Skill arises from meeting demands in a balanced and skilled manner. If you don’t use it you lose it, and a little bit of something is better than all of nothing. Do what you can. That’s all a human being can do. Trying to do what you can’t is a waste of time, but setting it as goal and adding regular manageable installments is a gold mine of transformational potential which unleashes slowly and surely.

Nev Sagiba


  1. This reminds me of the stupid stories one hears about people showing their licence to a would be assailant, before engaging with them, or telling them that one is a high level black belt and could not be responsible for the damage they will inflict on the assailant….. Ha ha! People believe this stuff!!
    The only thing I ever thought about when under that pressure was to get them down as fast as possible and make sure they don’t get up…..

  2. Is there a tendency under pressure of sudden attack or stress of testing to resort to basics?

  3. Brandon Clapp says:

    Nicely said.

  4. Basics is where its at….

  5. Great topic and I agree with you that merit is what signifies advancement, but, if a teacher does his job properly, a student only advances through. Now, we know that some may slip through the cracks, but overall I think we can say that students earn their rank. That aside, as to actual battle, what about snipers and artillery men targeting officers? I think it is fair to say that rank in that situation is recognized in battle. But I get your point, a belt or rank doesn’t really indicate a persons ability. There has to be some sort of delineation or degree given to a student though. Keep up the good work.

  6. Jason Rhodes says:

    Rank only indicates time spent doing something. The longer you do it, the higher the rank. It is only natural. From what I have seen, most people use rank as way of not having to answer questions, boosting their ego, using their teacher’s name, who gave them the rank, as a cop out, rather than it being just a symbol of time spent doing their respective art. At the end of the day, you have to be able to scrap then you can be philosophical about things. It doesn’t work the other way around, unless you want to be a Buddhist priest or something.

  7. And many still think MA’s are like this…


  8. yep….

  9. PS…nothing wrong with Alka Seltzer…I take two after one of Nev’s longs Blogs…but this one is write on the money.

  10. …there is this tendency to equate survival with skill. there is certainly a relationship, but not 1:1. so, propagating “proven techniques”, even mastering them, might improve your odds… or not, depending on the proportion of luck and skill that went into their development in the first place.

    i place confidence in the years O Sensei spent in Iwama developing modern aikido, and in Saito Sensei’s promulgation of that system. within its range of applicability it is VERY good.

    but just because i have a hammer does NOT mean the world is all nails. beyond hand-to-hand distance, hand-to-hand techniques are inapplicable. against charging pit bulls, aikido has no techniques to offer. and for transporting unwilling opponents, there are few applicable aikido techniques and those few are rarely taught.

    some of the “skill” that goes into any engagement is confidence. that comes from preparation, and might even be enhanced by rank. there was a recent study on posture and leadership. erect posture is a characteristic of leaders. was fortunate enough to see Osawa Sensei early in my training. his erect posture remains in my mind.

  11. It seems to me that a realistic view of “rank” is not of something one acquires, or something one earns. Rather, it constitutes a form of respect and regard from another in relation to others. It may conform to a standard, or it may be a one time acknowledgement.

    To me, then, it is an honor bestowed, a gesture of respect freely given, an unconditional statement of true regard for the value of one for another. Only as such, can it be humbly acknowledged by anyone so fortuitously regarded.

    Nothing more, nothing less.

  12. nick lowry says:

    Amen brother-

  13. Mr Sagiba, I agree whole heartedly with the issue on rank, however I cannot agree with your last statement that is “trying to do what you can`t is a waste of time”.

    The reason I started Aikido was precisely because I could not do it. I could kick punch flip of my back on to my feet all that flashy looking stuff, then a friend took me out gently with irimi nage after I tried a forceful forward kick.
    I tried to do it, but could`nt, over and over again I practiced with him, and still I could`nt work it out!

    It was then I decided to go to a class, and find out more!
    15 years later Im now teaching a class of my own, if I did not have the sense of trying something I could not do, I would have missed a very important leson, perseverance.

  14. Taisho, Nev does get it right sometimes you know, He’s not all bunny Ha Ha!

  15. That’s why I said WRITE…

  16. Delroy Markland says:

    I believe what he means by “Trying to do what you can’t is a waste of time” is trying to do something that isn’t universally realistic is a waste of time.

    We can do anything that falls in line with the laws of the universe, for instance gravity is a basic law, however there is the a law of space or Antigravity that supersedes that law, by trying to fly under the law of gravity without using a higher law to supersede it isn’t realistic and won’t work, anything is possible if it is done properly with the right frame of mind in accordance with the laws of nature

  17. Brett Jackson says:

    Mr. Takahashi has said it very elegantly. Rank is a way to acknowledge a person’s achievement. Achievement at the lower levels is for personal development. At the higher levels it is for contribution, as in teaching, re number and quality of students, AKA giving back. Ranking is part of virtually every field of human endeavor. In the business world, your rank in your organization is determined by your job title and your management level. In business, seniority counts a lot, which maps to number of hours as a minimum requirement for grading. In school, rank is determined by marks, grade point average, by year, by the level of one’s degree, and by special awards, such as summa cum laude. Obviously, rank is of critical importance in the military. It’s rampant in sports and games as well, like the handicap system in golf or ratings in the chess world. Of course, in society we have ranks too: mayor, congressman, representative, president or prime minister, Queen and so on. So it’s no surprise that having ranks in the martial arts is also the norm.

    The main point of Mr. Sagiba’s article as I see it is that rank per se is not the goal. The point of it all is to acquire real skill and (embodied) understanding and to help others achieve the same. There’s that old story of the beginner asking how long it will take to get a black belt. After receiving an answer he wasn’t happy with, he asked how long it would take if he worked twice as hard. The answer was that it would take twice as long! He was putting the cart (ranking, i.e. getting a “black belt”) before the horse (achievement). Achievement drives rank, not the other way around.

  18. Mark E. White says:

    Dear Sagiba sensei

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s not the number of the rank or the color of the belt, but the mat that shows what your are actually worth. Rank has nothing to do with Budo. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to get caught up in the race. And to a lesser extent what affiliation you may – or may not – belong too. If anything, rank is an expectation placed upon one by others that now must be fulfilled.

    Thank you for listening.
    Mark W

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