thanx for a very interesting thread. I think Jorgen is making some important points here. As a 6th kyu I admit that I sometimes long for "the secret knowledge of ki" (whatever it is) and "discovering a 6th sense" (partly because I'm interested in philosophy and Zen) rather than making sure that the steps are correct while performing irimi-nage, and I really have to struggle to have patience and practice "crawling" when my legs are eager to walk.
Before I attended some sessions with the superb aikidoka Mutsuko Minegishi (6th dan - one of the highest graded women in the world) I thought O-senseis talk about "becoming a universe" was rather esoteric. As she demonstrated a technique based on this principle however, I realized that this can be interpreted as a physical description about how you use centrifugal force to spin uke around your own static center.
And still, at the final session (for mostly beginners, and even some youngsters) she talked a lot about energy, and how the flow of energy concentrated in the palm even could have healing qualities (!). I do not understand what she meant by everything she said, but doesn't just the fact that she was talking about energy flow (which I see related to "ki" and as something "unwestern" and "unscientific" - PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong!) suggest that "ki" is and should be something we should try to be aware of all the way along the road (not just after shodan and higher)?
Just wanted to share some thoughts...