Re: Differences between female & male practitioners
For me a real eye opening experience was offering to do a class that integrated intermediate adults with advanced kids. The idea being to push the kids who had "outgrown" kids classes (size, strength, ability) and were no longer advancing as well with adults who tend to try to over power. The adults had to adjust "down" a bit while the kids had to step up. Add in to the mix the fact that I've got males and females as well with all the various cultural/size/strength differences already outlined in this thread.
Bottom line for me is that I came to realize even more that learning Aikido (as I understand it) requires both learning to deal with attackers across the spectrum but also to learn to take ukemi from others across the spectrum as well.
No, nobody cranks the kids. But they learn just how subtle technique can work when they can't just hammer them. They also learn that a small kid can sometimes manage to do amazing things when the timing is right. And they learn that power sometimes means something very different from just muscular strength and/or size.
Last night I had the class working with bokken. I got out a couple shinai and had them work on a particularly difficult movement that ends with a cut. This particular one was where you leap in to perform a yokomen then allow the end of the cut to turn around to face the other direction. Getting all the parts correct is very difficult. Usually what happens in the kata is that the cut is anemic and would be totally ineffective. It is tough to get the flow, movement and power all correct and retain good cutting form. So allowing them to try the cut hitting a shinai to verify the power and solidity is there was the way to give them feedback. The kids with a lot of experience in proper form actually were able to give a more solid and hence powerful cut than the ones with less. Regardless of size.
If the goal is a non-threatening place where people only train within their comfort zone, by all means segregate students. If the goal is to push students outside that zone and teach them to deal with more and more (or oddly enough maybe smaller and smaller), within reason it is a good idea to embrace the variety...