"The Hombu Dojo is like a box of chocolates… You never know what you're gonna get."
Except Forest Gump didn't look at that card which explains what all the chocolates are.
Similar to the chocolate-box menu, there is at least a list of teachers at the Hombu which might give you an idea of what to expect if you have "tasted" them before. Even then, the sheer number of visitors to the Hombu makes for a huge variety. I am wary of making assumptions about the place even after several visits. If you go to a particular shihan's class, there might be a large clique of those who exclusively enjoy that "flavour" but you really don't know who you might end up training with. People from all over Japan and the rest of the world (all with various lineages and standards) call by the Hombu as visitors. The regulars have no choice but to train with these people and I'd say that any of them that have been around for a while get to experience all kinds of standards and styles even if they do favour one particular teacher. It is a very busy melting pot of aikido. Like anywhere else it has its pros and cons. It is often very crowded so I think people look out for where they are throwing more, but sometimes it is too crowded to throw at all. I think this is one reason why there are few changes of partner since it is time-consuming when there are so many people on the mats (although I have attended classes where we changed). It could also be a factor that makes weapons training rare. Another is the official view of weapons as supplementary rather than basic. Whether you agree with that or not is irrelevant when you consider the afore mentioned variety. If Doshu Sensei favours one lineage over another, where does it leave the others?
The grading syllabus relates directly to that point. That very variety within the Aikikai should make having only a minimum set of requirements obvious. Maybe some get through just on those minimums but I doubt someone close to their shihan would be put forth for a grading unless he or she could also meet that shihan's own particular requirements. If those additional requirements (which for some includes weapons training) were required across the board, where would that leave the other teachers and their (often different) requirements?
It seems to me that the Hombu tries to stand in the centre where we all can overlap. It has standards but it's there to bring us all together, not just make everyone do carbon-copy aikido of one particular teacher. Osensei is gone and even when he was around, that wasn't possible. I see the Hombu as a nexus.
Great response, Carl. My thoughts verbalized quite clearly. Thank you.