This thread has been quite an interesting read! There's not much I can really add other than my observations concerning what the empty-handed sword art called Aikido
has taught me:
We have considerable weapons training (ken, jo, tanto) in my dojo. As I see it, swordwork teaches us one of the most fundamental, practical and effective techniques of Aikido: maintaining proper ma-ai. There's nothing like a vigorously swinging bokken nearly missing your head to keep you mindful of tactical spacing & distance! Ditto with the jo!
From a "real world" self-defense perspective, and not the confines of the dojo or the enclosed sparring ring of two willing combatants, being able to stay just out of your unarmed attacker's effective range is the best defense. Good ma-ai can be accomplished ether conventionally (i.e. utilizing open terrain/the whole street to your advantage) or "improvised" ma-ai (e.g. utilizing obstacles such as tables, desks, parked cars, etc.). That coupled with strong, quick tai sabaki. The two skills are indespensible and fundamental to Aikido.
Maintaining ma-ai and solid tai sabaki works, I've used them effectively in real life situations, as have a lot of Aikidoka...and I'm nobody special...just average, and my Aikido is only average for my rank...not even of Dan-grade. Does it fit the criteria of machismo or comicbook notions of honor? Not nearly! However, it's smart & effective self-defense.