I continued practicing kata and sparring occasionally, but school and work didn't allow for dojo time. I did stay connected to the arts by writing 20+ articles on various martial arts, techniques, and martial awareness for a (now defunct) fitness website.
During this time I began my Aikido training under Sensei Chris Whitehead.
Whitehead Sensei was one of my favorite teachers to date. There were only three or four students at a time in his class. After my sempai moved, I became sempai and took the position very seriously. I arrived early, set up the mats, led all the stretching and began basic drills. As I progressed, Whitehead Sensei would ask me to explain why we did X technique, why we did X stretching or warm up. If I could not answer, I was not allowed to teach it. This gave me a greater appreciation and understanding for Aikido, as well as the wisdom behind that style of teaching.
Because of his small classes, Whitehead Sensei encouraged us to attend any and all Aikido seminars in the area. I attended several AAA and Aikikai seminars over the next year or so. I had the honor of working with Toyoda Sensei, and with sharing sake and sashimi with him on his birthday.
The most important thing I learned from Whitehead Sensei was how to take off my shoes properly. Just as Coach Wooden taught his players the importance of putting on their socks, I learned the wisdom of removing my shoes. How one removes their shoes relates directly to how they will ultimately perform in real life Aikido. A student should untie their shoes, rather than pull them off. A student should tuck their laces inside their shoes and place their shoes neatly together against the wall, or in their locker, etc. This simple task involves discipline and attention to seemingly minor details, but if one cannot manage to take off their shoes properly, they will only manage to be good at Aikido.
Greatness lies in the details.