Peter Seth wrote:
Imagine - you are in a large class, a guest at a new class, on a course etc etc, where not everyone is known to you. You may be training with people who are wearing hakama's, some wearing coloured belts, some wearing white belts. How do you know the skill level/experience each person has, can they cope with breakfalls, positive application of techniques, are they beginners etc?
If it is not obvious, I personally ask the person I am about to train with (if I dont know them), what grade/experience they have and tailor my training to suit.
My point being, with such diversity in clubs/organisations about wearing hakamas and not wearing coloured belts untill they grade to shodan, there could be some Health and safety/insurance issues. Especially so in this litigation culture. Injuries or worse, could occur due to for example an inexperienced aikidoka wearing a hakama being mistaken for an experienced black belt and thrown at that level. Or, a 1st kyu wearing a white belt applying technique at that level to a 5th kyu wearing a white belt. I totally support the freedom of organisations to apply their own 'dress code' as it were, but I would say to everyone, if you don't already know, please ascertain the experience of the person you are training with.
The issues you raise in the context of wearing hakama also directly concern the coloured belts vs. white debate and, the individual standards that can and often do, vary vastly between organisations.
I would hope that in any organisation worth its salt, students are taught to be respectful of one another to the point of understanding one's partner's standard (grade at least) just prior to technique to prevent the problems you rightly highlight in your post. I therefore don't see the wearing of a hakama to be more than an issue than standing in front of a white belt wearer and before I apply technique, asking "have you been training long ?"
As a personal preference, I'd rather all mudansha wear white belt, it evens out status and it forces us to at least be a little cautious in our first techniques with those we don't know.
As for hakama, as Jun states its nothing more than bit of material. Which, some of us unfortunately put on a pedestal, I really don't have any strong feelings on whom should wear the garment. From a purely aesthetic point, It looks uniform within a dojo if everyone is wearing the same.
Until the Aikikai change their regulation on the matter, dojo within that organisation must maintain the hakama at shodan rule.