Training with a shihan does make a difference. Over the last 6 months I decided to join his dojo fulltime, same time when I first posted this thread I think I've found part of the puzzle I was searching for. Shihans teach differently I observe. BTW, the country I lived before didn't have a shihan but nevertheless I had excellent and very competent teachers. I feel I've relearned in these 6 months the things I had difficulty understanding for the past 22 years in my aikido training (here you can see I am a very slow learner
). I liken it to university where you are forced to understand something in 1 week what it took you to learn in highschool in several months or years.
I am also working on my theory which I've recently discovered that techniques in themselves don't work but principles do. That techniques are just an amalgamation of principles put together. That techniques are all similar, but not the same. I'm currently building my own "library" of principle theories which I am testing during practice. I can't get enough of them. It takes the practice on a new and totally different plane and it makes training so interesting.
In July this year I will test for shodan. I really do feel I'm only just beginning to understand.