I started doing Aikido about this time last year after going through a phase of life during which I was a very unhappy person. I am still somewhat unhappy but atleast now I have the self confidence and perspective to realise what I need to work on and how to go about doing it.
After diligently doing Aikido, on average 3 times a week and grading once to 6th kyu I have gained some insight into Aikido and martial arts in general. My personal insights would ofcourse be completely different than what other people get out of it and I dont claim to have any kind of absolute truth about anything, just personal subjective experience.
I realised that I am impatient with myself and my progress in Aikido, I wanted to be good at it, or atleast be able to use it realisticaly after 1 year.
I learned that Aikido is effective as a form of self defence when you maintain *all* the principles *at the same time* not just one or two at a time but all of them. I still dont know how to apply all of them but I'm sure it will come with time. As a martial artist I need to work on this.
I learned that in the kind of school-ground-rough-housing that most non serious fights (and some serious fights) devolve into the attacks are not commited enough and the ma-ai is too small to do Aikido, luckily though you are in little danger if the fight is not serious. As a martial artist I need to work on this.
I learned that kicking is a usefull and valid form of offence/defence and that I am not fast enough to evade kicks, at our dojo we also dont do nearly enough kick defenses and kicking atemi. I am not talking about flashy round-house kicks and such, merely touching your opponents leading knee with your foot is sometimes enough to disrupt their attack. As a martial artist I need to work on this.
Despite Aikido's shortcomings, exagerated by my inexperience, I will keep doing it but I will probably start cross-training in a ne-waza school (probably judo) for the close quarters rough-housing aspect I need to work on and as for the kicking, the russian martial art - Systema looks realy good from the video clips I got of it, its just sad that there are no certified instructors in South Africa.
(I recommend clips 6, 7, 8 and 10)