I started aikido 3 years ago and people in my dojo didn't want to pair up with me. As time passed by, I realized the same happened to all beginners. And not only do the more advanced students prefer advanced pairs - most of them actively avoid pairing up with anyone who hasn't practiced at least a year or two. They can be surrounded by low-level students, yet search every direction trying to avoid too much eye contact with them and find a more advanced pair.
The general rule in my dojo seems to be that the better your skills are, the more people want to practice with you. I can understand it: The best students are good ukes and they can also give you good advice that helps you improve. But what I can't understand is why so many people act according to their own wishes and ignore the needs of the others. We all want to improve, so it's not fair to leave beginners on their own. And I think it's very impolite to turn your back on some of your fellow students all the time just because they're not good.
We were all bad at first and we've learned so much from our seniors, so shouldn't we pay it forward and help others in turn? Unfortunately most of my dojo mates don't seem to think like that. Even the students who have started after me -- including those two who have become "accepted members of the club" and get to practice with other advanced students almost all the time -- seem just as eager to get more advanced pairs as everyone else. I had hoped that someone would follow my example, but the selfish atmosphere seems contagious.
I want everyone to feel welcome and appreciated, but I also want to get value for my money. Being the only more advanced student in my dojo who actively tries to pair up with low-level students, I've become very popular among them. When I don't seek them out, they seek me out so I hardly ever get to practice with anyone better than me. The aikido style I practice puts great emphasis on co-operation and the role of uke, so practicing with well-trained ukes is crucial to becoming good. I feel like I haven't improved in ages, probably because I practice so much with pairs who move in a wrong way and can't offer me any advice. (I'm sure practicing with them teaches me many things, but not the aikido style I'm trying to learn.)
I've talked about this situation with the sensei and he doesn't want to interfere with pairing up. I'm too shy to confront other students and tell them what I think. But more and more often I find myself reluctant to go to the dojo. I don't want to help my selfish dojo mates by teaching beginners to become the good ukes they want. If good ukes are so important to them, they should do their part of the work required. And what comes to beginners, I don't know if I should care. It's probably better if they don't like it there and quit.
I like aikido but the atmosphere in my dojo is really getting on my nerves. Is it possible for a dojo like this to change? Has it ever happened? It's been at least 3 years this way, so maybe I should give up and find another hobby?
You're finding it frustrating to train with beginners because you feel that the other sempai arent training with beginners? Kinda reflexive, isn't it? A tenkan for the situation is perhaps to train the new folk up on their ukemi so they are more attractive partners for the other sempai.
You have been at your dojo 3 years, but you dont feel comfortable talking to your dojomates and asking them to take on some of the "burden"? A quick word in the dressing room or over a beer to a likely candidate might get you some relief. Maybe hide it in something like "Hey, fellow sempai, I've been training with New-buck Greenguy and he's really starting to show some skills. Check him out tonight...."
Or, mention it in the after class circle if you have one. Or, start putting an edge on avoiding training with the other experienced students. "No thanks, miss Ikkyu. I get to help guide this new chick, hopefully get her really into aikido, and maybe get a good friend out of the deal." You'd be removing a good uke for the advanced folks so one of them would have to find a partner among the frosh and you'd be possibly changing the mind of other sempai about training with newbs.
Lots of the places I've trained, the dojocho or instructor for the class has two simple aims. First, teach aikido. Second, keep everyone safe. Lots of instructors expect their advanced students to perform the basic mat management tasks, like checking for proper ettiquette, attire, etc., enforcing the expected dojo culture, taking care of new folk, cleaning the space. If your sempai aren't doing that and you are, just keep doing it. Sensei is noticing who does what. You have more of an opportunity than you have a problem.
Me, I avoid my sempai and run to train with beginners because my sempai are wise to my bullshit....