Personally, I think that aikido should not be primarily about fighting. I've even said just the opposite in another thread not that long ago. In fact, the reason I don't do aikido anymore is that I have found that it is far too concerned with fighting for my taste. Most of the people I have encountered in the art actually enjoy fighting a great deal and take a lot of pleasure in throwing people around and pretending they are martially powerful.
They like to talk about how "deadly" their art is, or how they have discovered some magic technique that "magnetically" controls real physical attackers, or how certain strategies of various koryu that are very much about fighting should be used in aikido, but then when they are called on it and challenged on their effectiveness, they retreat back to the position that "aikido is not about fighting," using it not only as a get-out-of-jail-free card for their own lack of effectiveness, but also as a moral trump card meant to imply that those who are concerned about effectiveness are somehow less spiritually developed than all of these wonderful, peaceful aikido people.
People in aikido love to think that they are simultaneously highly skilled fighters yet somehow above fighting, perhaps because this is how the hagiographical accounts of Morihei Ueshiba have cast him. Rather than actually doing the same kind of training he did, though, they want to take the short cut to enlightenment, and create a martial fantasy world where their cooperative partners make them look like highly accomplished martial artists who can easily and gently handle the most powerful attacks. When presented with evidence that what they doing would never work on a real attacker, they say that it doesn't matter because aikido is not about actually winning in a fight, so please just let us get back to pretending to win in a fight like we were before. If aikido is not about winning in a fight, then why do you simulate that activity over and over again? If you have become so detached from any connection to the actual act that you are practicing that you have to completely deny its reality, then there is something seriously wrong with your art.
I'm not the one who brought up the subject of physical effectiveness in this thread. The original author claimed that what she teaches is effective in physically controlling a real attacker due to some "magnetic" force created by enjoying one's own movement. I find this notion preposterous. Yet somehow I am to blame for honestly challenging someone else's highly suspect claims of physical effectiveness. If you really think your art is not about fighting, then why do you spend so much time talking about how effective it is in a fight? Why do you claim that you can effectively control a real attacker if that is not actually your goal?
I'm not the one who is making aikido about fighting. It is all of the people in aikido who want to be good fighters and who are constantly coming up with all sorts of ideas and theories for why they are. When people in aikido stop making claims that what they do is effective in a real physical conflict then you can say that aikido is not about fighting and I will have no problem with it. Quite honestly, I don't expect that to happen any time soon, though, since I've found aikido people of virtually all styles to be very attached to the idea that they are good fighters and very unwilling to let go of that idea, even as they proclaim that aikido is not about fighting.
Actually, there is nothing here that I really disagree with. Aikido, because most styles have no competition attracts a very passive aggressive type of student. There's a bit of variation in what I would call East Coast and West Coast Aikido (folks don't get crazy on this, there are many exceptions on each coast). I think that the East Coast (where I started) model temperament tends towards the "Aikido as a martial art" side of things. The West Coast, especially the Northwest (where I currently am) tends more towards the "Aikido as spiritual practice / conflict resolution" side.;
There are aspects of Aikido which are quite effective martially. I have taught Aikido based arrest and control to law enforcement and security personnel for many years. Virtually everything I have taught has been used at one time or another on the street by my police students. That doesn't mean that I think I am a great fighter... Ellis Amdur Sensei once said that the definition of a "martial art" was training to fight another professional. By that definition Aikido doesn't even qualify. There are things that I have learned from my Aikido training which would apply in a fighting situation but the form my technique would take would not even be considered by most folks to be Aikido. So, you are right.
But I do not think that teachers like Wendy Palmer Sensei are really seriously trying to maintain that the art, as they and most of the rest of us normally practice it, is some kind of uber fighting style. I do not think that they are trying to maintain that they would defeat some Muy Thai trained mixed martial artist in a fight. Most of us simply do not train that way. (It's not that one couldn't... Jason Deluccia has done more of that than most but his technique is extremely eclectic and can't be considered Aikido, even though quite a bit of Aikido is in there.)
I have known Wendy for many years. I think she has taken her Aikido off the mat into the world in a way that most of us have not. My own Aikido is simply not very accessible for most folks. Despite the fact that I am not particularly interested in fighting any more, we do maintain a martial paradigm which is too demanding for most people. People like myself may have some impact on the art by trying to put it in touch with aspects of training which have perhaps fallen away... but I don't see practitioners of my ilk taking the art to the world and using it to change things for the folks who will never enter a dojo to train in anything. I am an Aikido teacher for serious Aikido practitioners but I am not going to change the world except by extension as my students take what we have done together and run with it. My environment is the dojo and I don't take what I know out to the world to any extent.
Teachers like Wendy Palmer do that. When they talk about "attacks". I think they are generally talking about the kinds of attacks one encounters every day from the typical untrained person who is simply fearful, angry, depressed, etc. These attacks are not from highly trained professionals and in the vast majority of cases are not physical but rather emotional, verbal attacks within the workplace, in relationships, within families, etc. Aikido principles can be applied successfully in managing these conflicts. That is what I see teachers like Wendy Palmer Sensei addressing when they use the language of violent confrontation to describe conflicts which are anything but true martial encounters.