Re: How effective is aikido in self defense?
Yes you are right people do not really make the per-equation between, technique, training method and what you train for.
As well as I think the problem is the "all good or all bad" approach. I think you just need to recognise the limitation of what you do
If you practice an aiki--fluffy style, it is very good and more than enough to deal with a drunk or someone that attacks out of distance and over commit; I.e. Uncle Benny at a party.
It is not going to work in 1v1 or someone that will break the distance by deception and or quick but no overcommitted attack.
Usually combat sport are that useful someone that will break the distance by deception and or quick but no overcommitted attack. That being said it is fine in 1v1 and Uncle Benny case.
Really if SD is not what you do aikido for; getting punched is not really necessary or even important.
If SD is important, well yes hitting and getting hit is important and building core strength will be or dabbing into ground work as part of you aikido training
What ever approach you have your randory/kokyu nague and your basic training should reflect that.
There is really no such thing a muscle memory, however training/pressure testing condition a response to a give stimuli.
Or if you adhere to the cognitive reflex response as opposed to the standard conditioning, it will enable you to recognise a situation and cause the appropriate automatic response overriding the default flinch.
Regardless the action itself is not "conscious and cognitive" and is more a reflex/ flinch like; you will execute it as you have drilled it.