Perhaps we could use a bit of a qualifier here.
I do believe that people are doing the best they can given who they are and what they are there for.
Some people just don't have high expectations for themselves or Aikido.
But, there probably is some positive intention that they are showing up and training.
Good comment. I know its not a popular thing in the aikido community to say something like "that person is not trying their best." It goes against a lot of the percieved 'spirit' of this art. I feel your second paragraph, about people not having high expectations, directly relates to one trying their best. One thing we try to focus on where I train is a combination of oral, written, and physical testing. Many students, for these tests, focus on studying aikido history, or philosophy as other's have stated and written about. While these questions are asked, and are important, the primary focus of this is often to test a student's self understanding of Why they train and What they get out of their training, and How they relate their training to their daily life. (I have no idea why I capitalized those interrogatives).
Humans are typically creatures of habit. Often its easy to get into a routine of showing up to the dojo and, while there, 'just get through class.' It is then a intuitive teacher should shake things up a bit, or get to know theirs students on some level of intimacy where complaceny and apathy are noticed. I've heard some aikidoka complain about feeling obligated to attend the many seminars throughout the year, particularly the dan rank requirements for seminar and instructor meetings/class attendance. This baffles me. For one, if you want to be nidan but are not interested in attending more than one seminar a year...there is something not quite right. I understand financial and logistical committments, but only to a certain level. There needs to be some level of commitment to your practice at higher levels and truly benefit one's training.
These seminars meetings and, as importantly, social events serve as means by which your dojo instructors, and organizaitonal leaders, can get to know you on a personal level. They watch you practice, interact with others, watch you fail and become embarrassed, succeed through difficulties, laugh, make others laugh or feel at ease in uncomfortable situations....all these things combine to make one who they are. If we study budo to better ourselves all these things should be taken into account. With that, this is the way we can set up our seniors for sucess in identifying how best to 'get the best' out of us. If there is no level of intimacy (which requires commitment to acquire) between student and teacher...then the student can get much less out of their training. That Isshin den shin connection developed by sharing blood, sweat, tears, brauts and beers. Jon earlier quoted or paraphrased Dave Lowry....I will add to that by regurgitating a statement made by Lowry about how odd he finds it that some students have never been to or seen their teacher's house or met their family. With that I completely agree. Lowry, of course, explains it much better than I could...so for those interested I would suggest they read his writtings (sorry, don't remember which book/chapter).
Point being, I feel its is the dojo's responsibility to discover what student's best are. When a student first walks in the door, they are an unknown. Teachers and assistants have to make certain assumptions and generalizations until those new students are better known. I have been training in my organization for over ten years. The more senior students have been there the whole time. I have been uchi deshi and attended as many seminars as I could. The senior students and teachers know a lot about me. They have seen me on good days and bad days. They know when I am being a litte too arrogant, self-debasing, lazy, etc.
A good example; I was recently training with my old mentor (from when I was uchi deshi). It was well into a long and trying seminar and towards the end of the day. I was getting lazy with my blocking of atemi (the technique had a designed atemi). My mentor noticed this and gave me a good, solid, atemit that blew right through my "I'm thinking about drinking in 20 minutes" style block and rocked my head pretty good. Basically I hit myself in the face with my own hand. Embarassing, and a good lesson in zanshin. I couldn't have appreciated it more. I was getting lazy and needed to be brought back mentally into what I was doing, and where I was. This is why I train where I do. There was nothing even mentioned of this inccident, in fact I never gave it any thought (other than when it happened) until now. Is this something my old mentor would have done with ALL studnets present at the seminar? No, certainly not. Many people would take offense, or not understand the lesson to be had. If someone thinks this odd behavior, we would provide a "that teacher would only do that to someone he liked" type of explanation. Point being, I feel there is a requirement of a personal level of development and trust for a student - teacher relationship. I entrust my money, body, time, and effort to those I call teacher. I expect, in return, a geinuine care for my development as a person and technician in aikido. I also expect them to have the tools and expertise to satisfy those requirements. In return, I give them enough of my time and effort so they can properly assess what "my best" is, and decide the correct way in which to pull it out of me.
I apologize for the spelling errors.