Thanks Peter, another great column. Just a couple comments.
I'm glad you brought up Ellis' article on the nature/importance of ukemi, that was what I first thought of when you brought up Shioda Sensei's 9th dan exam. I have never heard that story before.
Along the lines of the meaning of "uke/ukemi", I find it kind of interesting that my first aikido school (Kurita Minouru's Seikikai) did not use the term "uke" to describe the attacker role in aikido practice (at least not here in the States). It was only after I had left that organization and started training elsewhere that I heard the terms "uke" and "nage." We had used "tori" and "aite" almost exclusively to describe these roles. Ukemi was what you did to stay safe as an attacker, but we didn't really associate that term with the attack itself or anything in the interaction before the physical act of falling safely. At the last aikido dojo I trained at, ukemi was a more all inclusive term, and often more attention was paid to how "uke" should follow nage's movements so that they could do the technique rather than how to actually protect the body during practice. I have no idea how common the "aite" term is for this role in Japan, I haven't heard it in any other aikido circles in my travels here in the US though. I find it kind of interesting given the time period that Kurita Sensei was an uchideshi (porter?
) for OSensei.
Along those lines... he commented on almost every trip to the US that I was able to attend about the importance of being the 'low man' on the uchideshi-pole because it meant he was 'stuck' carrying OSensei's bags, preparing his meals, massaging him after keiko, etc... I don't think he said it outright, but he certainly implied that those uchideshi who were so quick to get out of this kind of duty so that they could get back to their training were missing out on a great deal.
I don't think any of my comments are particularly useful or groundbreaking, just thought I'd throw them out there, since they were what I thought of as I went through your column.