IMHO, while I am very supportive of Aikido, I am also very critical. It is not the style of Aikido, but the skill of the person doing Aikido (or any art) that matters.
I like this as jumping point. So thank you, Lynn for the good thought to follow up on.
It is the skill level , first and foremost, of the person in the flesh.
But it is alo the onus of the person who is practicing to learn what 'usefull' really means and to discern what it is you are really defending.
Useful is not limited to working in a ring or prevailing on the street. If those paradigms never present themselves in our lives, in that instance, did we train for naught. Was it all simply a fight drama that solidified opposites and never found the thread? Could be.
Is it not practical to look at the overall effects of our personal well being? Is it not useful to eliminate scarcity thinking from our selves because we know that the universe is ever present and always providing for our lives (Take mu-su)? Is it not useful to reframe the way that we relate to the world based on powerful, harmonious, non-invasive activity?
And is it not useful to have somewhere to gather in the deepest form of active sincerity and commit our spirit with our flesh to our partner, as if they were our momentary spouse, and work together in a most intricate dance of living and dying?
To me, this is useful. You get there through diligent and developed labor in practice. You get there through following the form of the techniques until the surface veil dissolves and the true lessons speak. You get there by being there, even imperfectly.
That is the essence of inner sparring, IMO. And the winner is all of us.
Me, Myself, and Ai.