Re: weapon training for lower ranks
If you do not train with weapons, particularly the bokken, you will be at a major disadvantage as far as understanding the art of aikido. While I'm sure that you can learn aiki without weapons training, the root of most of the techniques and attacks is Japanese sword culture. You will often see that the techniques don't quite fit many empty-hand situations. This is because the situations that the techniques/attacks where born from where armed situations.