Re: What exactly is an independent dojo?
I find it amusing when I hear of sayings like "We're independent because we don't like politics!". I guess what it sounds like to the outside party is that "We're independent because the politics didn't favor me/us!" Speaking as someone that trains at an independent dojo, there are always going to relational aspects that you must be sensitive to (that's part of the training), whether it's just the dynamic between you and your teacher, your sempai, kohai, etc.
I think the problem of stagnation is valid (but again, not exclusive to independents) -- but you can be an independent dojo and still go to seminars with associations or visit other affiliated dojo (or as was recently the case this year, a seminar that involved sponsorship by three different dojo- two different group affiliations and an independent dojo). It's ultimately the responsibility of the student to develop their practice and progress in their training. A good teacher provides you with the tools and shows you the path, but it's up to you follow it (whether you're an agoraphobe or a tourist).
Personally, right now, what matters to me are (not necessarily in order) my goals for training (I find I always need to have goals, whether it's to be able to do five more push-ups, tap out five people a night, or advance a rank), my relationship with my teacher and supporting my dojo. I think that, affiliated or otherwise, if you're meeting or exceeding your goals for training and the material is presented in an honest fashion (by people that have legitimate training backgrounds) -- then the rest of the progress is solely up to you.
Of course, you couuullllddd get in to that whole name-dropping thing of, "Well, I train with Shihan X and we've got the REEL AIKIDOUGH!", but that would probably spark an entirely different thread . . .