The Hakama... Cool, ain't it?
That the hakama is big part of aikido tradition, goes without saying. As a matter of fact, I was surprised a the amount of Arts that make the wearing of a Hak a tradional part of their practice -Kendo, Iaido, Kenjitsu, Kyudo, certain styles of Jujitsu, etc., etc., being a few examples-.
Anyway, in our dojo we recognize this, but also feel that the hak is emblematic of our Art; thus anyone can EARN the right to wear it. This isn't to segregate or belittle anyone; rather, it works to insure that the students have learned to move before putting on the hakama, and avoid tripping themselves up in it, possibly injuring themselves or other students.
Besides demonstrating that they can take ukemi, the practitioner must demonstrate he is a serious student. IMHO, I like this system (I'm not knocking anyone, I just like the system in our dojo!), because it also insures that the student can look forward to earning his hak, and therefore feels some incentive to continue his training.
In some dojos the hak is a much bigger deal, to the point that only yudansha may wear it. So I guess the determination of who is "higher ranking" or "more skilled" would depend on what your local dojo's policy on the wearing of hakamas. I get he feeling, however, that in most dojos wearing a hakama doesn't have the "high rank" connotations most beginners seem to attribute to it.
My best advice would probably be: don't be picky who you practice with, practice with anyone who is near. This will give you a better feeling for different ukes, which is the best sort of training anyway.
Just my 2 cents worth!
[Edited by stratcat on September 29, 2000 at 11:36pm]