I think this section of George's post is well worth repeating. It is quite important to the topic I think and is worth taking the time to really understand what is being said.
Having said that - How does one transform a fearful nature into something else through Aikido practice exactly? Fear is often only removed through deep understanding of what is feared and why it is feared which in a very real way gives one a degree of POWER over that fear. Fears are also often products of environment and circumstance, developed well over time. For example, if one has consistently lived in an environment where the threat of death or injury by an armed assault is very high, then that fear will be very deep seated and require a very high degree of understanding (iow POWER) to be overcome. The only other option is to become fully unattached to whatever may be lost by the threat that is feared, but attaining skill in non-attachment may be better found in a school of Zen or similar, not a martial art.
As per George's statement, fear creates tension and becomes a block to attaining true balance, so it can be said that as long as fear is a factor in what drives us it will be very difficult to relax and "let the world in." We can only honestly let the world in if we feel secure enough to do so, or if we are totally unattached to any negative effects of "letting the world in."
Part of the reason that the "effectiveness" question comes up regularly is because of fear and attachment. Many simply don't believe that their training methodology (and this includes any training method, not only Aikido) empowers them enough to remove their basic fears towards conflict and confrontation. If this basic fear cannot be removed then the hope of transforming the fearful self into something else is quite slim via that methodology.
So what George is saying is very important to many who train Aikido in its original intent as Budo. If ones practice does not assist one in removing fears through empowerment or unattachment, then what is one really learning to achieve?
Just some thoughts on the subject. I always smile at the effectiveness questions by newbies to the forum because it reminds me of the human-ness of those out there who practice in many different countries, who live in many different realities that may not be appreciated by many. Even Ueshiba M. started his training because of fear. Fortunately he was able to remove enough fear that he started getting to the "good stuff." But I wonder if he did not find empowerment or unattachment if he would have ever achieved what he did to create Aikido after all of it.
Fear is a very complex issue for a practitioner. Often it has nothing to do with fear of the physical pain or injury possible in training. You can have a guy who wouldn't bat an eye about getting on the mat with four people with sticks all trying to hit him but he wouldn't go to counseling to save his relationship.
We had one of our randori intensives and a couple of my friends who are 5th Dans attended. Initially they each had a tremendous difficulty in accessing their skills under pressure. Neither of these fellows is scared of being hit or making contact but the tension they carried was tangible even to an observer. So where did all that come from? Fear of failure, fear of not measuring up in the eyes of your peers, juniors, teacher, or even your own eyes?
I have another friend who is a wonderful Aikidoka. She is absolutely fearless on the mat in terms of ukemi and has no back off about anything you throw at her. Yet she is terrified of hitting someone else. Her back off about putting out a strong Yang energy creates a balance problem in her practice. Where does fear like that come from in one who is actually quite courageous in facing danger when it is herself at risk?
We all carry all sorts of tension. Some is tension from past hurts and trauma that we have contracted around and now carry in our bodies. Some is tension that is created by not really being present but rather anticipate suffering that MIGHT be coming.
People whose habit is to be barricaded often find that connecting, really connecting with another human being is fraught with perceived danger. In Aikido, as in relationships, you can't succeed unless you place yourself in a place of vulnerability.
Can you do technique with aiki without dealing with your fears? Absolutely. The Founder was very careful in the early days not to show his technique to people he did not know directly. He was worried that someone of low character would steal the technique.
As Aikido began to assume its modern post-war form after the war, this became less of a concern as technique shifted away from combat technique designed to cause harm towards technique which allowed full commitment of spirit and energy in relative safety.
Of course there were always those who misused the practice to dominate, even injure their partners. But you could really see an art develop which could be done by gentlemen (and the female equivalent) like the Nidai Doshu.
I have learned a lot by watching how the Systema folks practice. In my opinion the purpose of Systema training is the same as it is for Aikido. But I think that in many ways they do a better job of it. Right from day one there is an emphasis on developing an awareness of the tension we carry in our minds and bodies and they work constantly to learn to move that energy and release it. Having watched several people completely transform as individuals after only four or five years of Systema. I have to say that they do a better job of personal transformation than we do. Much of their methodology is transferable however.
Aikido will not become what the Founder wished it to be, fulfill its mission so to speak, as long as people get stuck on issues of whether the art is effective in combat, can be used against mixed martial artists and blah, blah, blah. These concerns are completely irrelevant to the point of the practice. We need to look at how Aikido practice serves to transform our fearful natures into something grander, braver, more balanced. Part of that is facing our fears through hard training. That is part of Budo. But it is also about letting go of the need to win all the time and taking our ukemi. We need to learn how to stop turning everything we do into conflict in order to survive as a species. I see no other reason to do the art if it isn't about that.