This thread isn't drifting at all. This thread is brilliant. Allow for a little nonresistance, and allow for people to examine and reexamine aspects that often get pushed under the rug.
I am not 100% in agreement with George Sensei. He is not the average instructor. I believe George sensei to probably be the best teaching aikido instructor that I have ever seen. He is working on a teaching method that works for him; I don't think most people could even teach the way George Sensei does, let alone transmit aikido as well as he does. Maybe in a couple of generations if the competency level is raised we'll talk again... (or in December when he comes to our dojo).
Ultimately, I think Mary's point is the best advice - buyer beware. The problem is that the dojo environment also contains this psychological pressure that sometimes students are not aware of as impacting their decision-making process. This is consistent with psychological pressure that can also accompany more traditional abusive relationships.
Jon, I don't agree 100% with George, either. But that's not the point. What I do agree with is that George is willing to put aikido up on blocks, disassemble the whole thing, and take a serious look at how to reengineer something that's been driven pretty hard over a lot of miles in the past 40-50 years. We have newer technologies available to us now. We have more accurate history records. We have communication tools available. We have a more open dialogue. And we can redefine levels of performance.
The "time to shodan" is actually less important than the idea that we examine it. And as I outlined, there are already lots of models in place that agree with each other. "Time to shodan" really is about 300 days of training, and the ability to demonstrate and execute a body of techniques and movements. And an average student should be able to complete that within about 2 years. Aikido, in many ways, should be viewed no differently than educational institutions. If anyone goes into a school and puts in the money and the time, the school should be able to provide a straight answer as to the requirements for certain degrees. And deliver the degrees when those requirements are met.
Ryan's open letter, and this topic are precisely about examining standards for conduct and behavior within martial arts and aikido environments.
And I'll tie this in with Mary's talking about abusive relationships - and "time to shodan." I knew a woman in Denmark who had trained aikido very diligently for many years. She was at the point where she could have and should have been given more responsibility. But because of the deplorable state of aikido politics within Denmark at the time, she sat in limbo and went without graduation to shodan for years. She never was graduated. She ended up committing suicide. Gassed herself in her apartment. She was a very good friend of mine, and we trained together for many years. And in this case, I absolutely hold aikido and Aikikai responsible, at least in part, for contributing to factors that created an environment for an "abusive relationship" in which someone who put in the heart, time, and effort was pushed aside, unrecognized, and ultimately psychology abused.