Re: Preparing for Test Outside of Regular Class Time
A friend of mine studies American Kempo Karate. His sensei teaches classes in a strict cyle - each class is a set of techniques that come around every so many weeks. My friend has been doing this for awhile now (about 3 years) but he can only go to class 1-2 times a week due to career, kids, etc. I would say that he is progressing about as fast as an aikido student would in our less structured teaching environment who trains that much.
I wonder what level of training intensity Tohei Sensei had in mind when he mentioned 6 months to some basic level of competence? Most people with busy lives are able to train 4-6 hours a week - 6 months of that is not much. On the other hand, when my teacher Mary Heiny Sensei was first in Japan, she was training 6-7 hours a day, 6 days a week! Six months at that pace is a whole different story.
You can draw a line of skill and call it shodan where ever you want, I guess. In the ASU, the absolute minimums are 510 hours of training AND 37 months - in reality it is much more than that. Of course, Mary Heiny Sensei trained that many hours in about three months - her life was totally devoted to the study of aikido and she got shodan pretty fast.
In our dojo, the testing requirements are posted on the wall and on our website. If I ask a student taking a test to do a particular technique and they don't know it, then the fault is mine. Techniques are the vocabulary of the language that is aikido and it is my job to teach my students the basics of how to speak. That being said, training outside of class, going to seminars, and seeing other instructors is vital to good progress, especially as people get more senior.
For me, the 'go figure it out' aspect is that past a certain point we all have to discover how the techniques work best for our bodies and minds. Ikeda Sensei likes to say that he can show people his aikido, but not their aikido.
To come back to my original point, I think the level of dedication on the part of the student is more important than the structure, or lack thereof, of class. They put in the hours, they get up the mountain.
I hope this is a useful perspective.