We often hear in martial arts that rank is not important, and that your belt is meant only to hold your gi together. But just by the frequency of hearing these comments, we should know that there is an underlying problem, otherwise we wouldn't hear this so often.
In my opinion, rank has value and importance in every human activity. Whether you work at a company, you are an employer, at the army, at school, even at home, people always have their place and rank, and this is how you keep order and avoid chaos. This of course tends to be more emphasized in oriental cultures. I have noticed that usually in the east, rank and seniority are given not to the person with the best skills or abilities, nor judged by the amount of hard work one puts into his group or company, but rather through the date of admission to the group. A person who started working on December 6 will have higher status than his or her colleague who started at December 7.
Now in a martial arts dojo, rank is not only a vain means to show off, which is the side most people tend to see and criticize. Rank gives you status whithin the dojo and beyond. It gives you leadership and responsibility. You will become a model to the junior students, who will come to you for advice. Therefore I do understand that for some people, the above privileges are very important and they would do anything to hold on to them. I find many similarities to the corporate world, since it is also based on a pyramidal hierarchy. The higher the position, the fewer the numbers. And more politics, of course.
That is in my opinion the reason of the frequent discontent we usually hear from Western aikido practitioners, but almost never from our Oriental counterparts who understand the system and accept it as is.
I think that we too should understand and accept this system and not hold grudges and bad feelings, because this is a traditional martial art, based on traditional oriental values that we should help upkeeping, and also because otherwise we would disrupt our group harmony and take the fun out of our training.