Re: Paying for testing?
Point taken. As I said, there's no right or wrong, just different ways. Still I personally would not be comfortable with it, an I need not be. It's differently organized within my affiliation, and that's the way that suits me personally better. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses, it up to us to find one, that suits our needs best. You have done that, and I am quite sure, that you are well aware of the strengths and the limits of the way you are doing it. In my eyes, that's what is important in the end.
Tests have their place, in Aikido as well as in life. But again, different people will focus on slightly different aspects. Again, each approach has its strengths and its weaknesses.
There's a saying in life sciences: "you can only find, what you are looking for". Just make sure, you are looking for what you want in Aikido, and accept when others are looking for something different.
So if you can live with me preferring a different way, and probably not becoming a member of your organisation, I for one can perfectly live with the fact. And if we ever meet on one or another mat, I will be happy to practice Aikido with you.
BTW: yes 20 US$ can be a lot of money, even here in Germany. Within the last 10 years 20-30 Euro were about as much, as I could spent per week, including food, clothing and saving money for Aikido seminars. Maybe that explains a bit, why I am not comfortable with grading fees.