Re: Dead end?
I'm doing aikido since seven years, and quite intensively, still there are many things in which I recognise myself from your description.
First, this issue of teachers discouraging students from taking "big, flying ukemi". I still don't get it. I CAN understand the reason behind, but sometimes I just have the urge to have fun and get myself thrown hard, and do everything very dynamically even if the style sucks. Teacher says this is not the objective. The objective is for uke to feel what tori is up to and to follow the lead. So if you throw yourself into a breathtaking, magnificent neko ukemi whereas tori intended to let you down at his feet and apply a lock, it's simply bad aikido. I recognise that I'm still not at that level where I can recognise tori's intention, and I'm still too much occupied to push through my own movements. That's fine if you want to apply countertechniques, which I always want - but then it's completely counterproductive for your learning process. So I need to overcome my own instincts and attitude, which sounds easier than it is. As I said, rationally it is completely clear - but then why does tori in so many cases want to let uke down gently when there is also the option to throw him hard? VERY disappointing! A long way still to walk.
Another issue is that with the very widespread curriculum. We have that, too, and as a result, we advance enourmously slowly. Shodan takes 10 years in average, maybe? I don't have statistics. But when comparing with more "belt-centered" dojos, I find that they concentrate very much on the programme for the next belt, but do not teach all the varieties, applications, kaeshi & henka waza that make aikido so very fascinating. It looks to me like teaching a language to a student making him learn by heart all pre-formulated answers to pre-formulated questions. But once there comes a different question, the student is lost. I prefer to learn my aikido language slowly, but with a broader focus than only the techniques for my next belt.
I wish you much fun continuing aikido, and don't worry about the belts. If you walk along a fascinating scenic road, who cares about the frequency of traffic lights on your way?
All the best,