I really dont think most aikido schools are like yours. I wouldn't say that most were like mine, either, but I do see a trend to topheaviness that makes sempai = uke much more possible. My dojo has a 6th dan, at least 3 5th dans, a couple, three 4ths, maybe 1 3rd, at least one 2nd, 4-5 shodan, maybe a handful of kyu folk, and new folk hover right around 3 but dont show up much. I'd love some fresh blood to take ukemi for.
THe new folk are all intimidated by our general yudanshaness. No peer(rank) role models, they think they are wasting our time when we train with them, and they dont believe us when we thank them for being good, strong, unpredictable training partners, no matter as uke or nage.
Send us some of those newbs, please.
I think this is not uncommon these days - average dojo age going up 1 year at a time! Perhaps we should be doing BJJ or MMA...
Bringing the new blood in is a constant challenge, and then of course keeping them, and as you say, inspiring them and motivating and encouraging them to just keep going. Having a good atmosphere in the dojo allows all to be engaged at their own level and to be making progress. A little competitiveness is not necessarily bad, but can be detrimental - but people always compare themselves to others.
Had a new chap just join who said he wasn't sure if he was too old at 52! When I pointed out I was 51 and another chap present was 54, he was somewhat relieved (our youthful looks obviously confused him!). He seems enthusiastic and engaged (and has paid for a month now), but it's very early days yet in his possible aikido career...
Mind you, I was chatting with Robert Mustard sensei and Toby Threadgill sensei over a beer after their excellent seminar in Dartford on Saturday. Both said that they don't necessarily have large numbers in their home dojos. There's Mustard sensei, one of the top Yoshinkan instructors in the world, with invites around the globe for seminars. He said he has rung up Neil (who organised the event last weekend), and told him "5 people in class today" and put the phone down - he can hear Neil's teeth gnashing in frustration at the wasted opportunity all the way from Vancouver! Prophets not recognised in their home towns!