Abstract In this paper we propose a new technique that adaptively extracts subject specific motor imagery related EEG patterns in the space–time–frequency plane for single trial classification. The proposed approach requires no prior knowledge of reactive frequency bands, their temporal behavior or cortical locations. For a given electrode array, it finds all these parameters by constructing electrode adaptive time–frequency segmentations that are optimized for discrimination. This is accomplished first by segmenting the EEG along the time axis with Local Cosine Packets. Next the most discriminant frequency subbands are selected in each time segment with a frequency axis clustering algorithm to achieve time and frequency band adaptation individually. Finally the subject adapted features are sorted according to their discrimination power to reduce dimensionality and the top subset is used for final classification. We provide experimental results for 5 subjects of the BCI competition 2005 dataset IVa to show the superior performance of the proposed method. In particular, we demonstrate that by using a linear support vector machine as a classifier, the classification accuracy of the proposed algorithm varied between 90.5% and 99.7% and the average classification accuracy was 96%.