Re: Can you truly understand budo without training in Japan?
To the original topic, I would say that budo undergoes a shift - IMO a breakdown - when groups have less exposure to Japanese culture, particularly in America.
Because kata is absolutely everywhere in all interactions between human beings in Japan - I'm shocked that anybody who has lived there would call this notion nonsense, if you've got some empathy you only have to visit there once to see that this is true - and kata is focused on internalizing a form, that is sort of how "budo is supposed to work." That's not where the learning process stops, of course, not even in budo, but it needs to be a personal subversion to break from the kata or it won't mean anything.
In the West we tend to not have patience for the repetitive formal part. Culturally we are taught that it is a waste of time, and we idolize outsiders and naturals who either never had to learn the steps or just dispensed with all that and skipped right to success. Our educational methods became more cognitive in the 60s and 70s in general, also, with teachers asking us what we thought and trying to encourage us to experiement and play with concepts earlier on.
One thing I have noticed and commented on quite a bit is that it is very easy, if you don't have this inherent trust in the system, to decide that because you cannot make something work, *IT* doesn't work, and therefore should be dispensed with or modified. If you don't have seniors in your organization who understand the system as it was laid out and are willing to enforce a form, it starts to drift.
And budo is supposed to change you - you lose a lot if you think you can take a little bit here or a bit there, or step on the mat day one with the intention of adapting budo to meet your ideas.