If they're so focused and dedicated, how come they're only in class twice a week?
It's a physical art. I don't think you'll find any teacher or coach in any physical art, from recorder playing (Hi Pauliina!) to baseball, who will agree that twice a week is enough.
In my own experience, I plateau at two classes a week. I make steady progress at three. I make faster progress at four, but can't sustain that for long before other parts of my life suffer more than I'm willing to allow. Other kinds of off-mat physical training help me maintain my conditioning, but they don't help my aikido much.
Thanks, Katherine! I was about to make this same observation from my own personal experience, and read a little farther down the thread before posting.
Some would say that we need more opportunities for aikido people to train at the elite levels. I would say that those opportunities are already there, and that people need to decide to make those sacrifices and commit to that level of training if that is what they want to achieve. Dedication means sacrifice, people, and you get what you pay for. "Agatsu," victory over self, implies sacrifice.
I have taken the long road, and have spent many years (decades, in fact) working up to the meager rank of Nidan, and have been blessed to have seen my own students (from my kids aikido classes) who have blossomed, planted, and bloomed into Nidans before they left University. I have trained more frequently (as an uchi deshi for a while, 6-7 days a week), and less frequently (as little as twice a month), depending on my current level of dedication and involvement in the rest of my life. I am happily 45 years old, and have been training in aikido since college, with only a few short respites. I have traveled to Japan three times so far and practiced with many wonderful teachers both there and in the states, including all of the major Shihan in the US. I am happy to see that my support of the art has enabled others more dedicated to be able to achieve things I have not, and I will be continuing my progress at whatever rate my dedication allows me to achieve.
This is MY path, my WAY. No one can convince me that you cannot walk the path unless you run it quickly. I meet wonderful people along the way, some of us meet at the same waypoint, others just wave as we pass by on different levels of the switchbacks. We help each other along the way. Everyone reaches a different destination along the way at any given point in time. This is in keeping with O-Sensei's message of harmony as much as anything is.
For the art to continue, we need to acknowledge and support the fact that some people are more dedicated than others and are willing to sacrifice to make great progress in the art and become the elite aikido athletes and future Shihans. While not all of us are going to excel at that level, all of us can and should participate at whatever level of dedication and training we can avail ourselves of, and always strive to improve.
Any athletic organization has feeder systems and bush leagues and such to both weed out the less enthused and give the less trained a place to start. Aikido is blessed with a fairly self-selecting system that enables anyone to achieve higher rank through dedicated training. People simply need to step back and gain a little real perspective and decide if their personal level of dedication is going to make them an "elite marathon runner" or a "fitness runner." Aikido is more of a relay race than an individual event, if you take my meaning -- it's part of the way to be willing to pass the baton and help the faster runner along towards victory.