Re: weapon training for lower ranks
Different teachers have different approaches.
Some teachers (my own included) seem to feel the weapons make the learning more difficult and therefore require duration of empty hand practice prior to weapons practice. Other teachers (including a Shihan of our style) claim weapons are very important to learn from the start as the weapons work should teach one about posture, center line, mai and working with ones body.
So far, I found a correlation between the way a person has began his own way in M.A. and the way he teaches. Apparently, both ways are legitimate and depend on having a good teacher who knows how to teach in such a manner.