George S. Ledyard
a) obviously, an imbalance between what you can deliver and what you can take back is clearly a reason to tone it down; I was that way when I started. I cam from a Shotokan background (just some college classes) and I could attack far harder than what i could take back. So I had to tone it down until I got my ukemi skills up
b) any encounter with someone who is not operating on the Aikido paradigm will likely be highly impactive. I think this is one of the reasons one develops a more formalized training style. Othewise folks would be injured all the time and you would only have two or three crazed Aikido maniacs training. By having a certain structure to train we can keep things predictable enough to avoid too many accidents and still train in such a way as to isolate the key principles we wish to work on.
c) the desire to go beyond the form is entirely an individual decision. I do not think that it is necessary unless ones interest is largely focused on fighting. The form of physical Aikido technique had meaning for the Founder. Changing that to get to fighting skill is, in a sense, a de-volution of the art. Aikido is quite challenging enough to give one a lifetime of study without feeling that we need to change it from the broad presentation given us by the many teachers who succeeded O-Sensei.
d) what I am simply asking for is that the outer form of the practice have actual content. If there is an attack, I would like it to be a committed attack, regardless of how formilzed it seems to be. If there is a throw, I'd like to actually be a throw that would throw someone who isn't just colluding and running around you in circles.
Aikido practice is designed to change the practitioner in a number of ways. Some are physical, all are psychological. It is a form of character development. It is a practice designed to allow you to have access to the benefits of martial training but with a focus that is not about fighting, in fact about not fighting. I take the non-violent message of the Founder very seriously. But many people think that being non-violent means sucking the life out of the techniques. I think that is wrong. Training with little or weak intention will never reveal anything of any depth about the power of non-resistance. It will never develop the strength of character that would allow one to stand in the midst of conflict with a calm mind. It will never help the student transform what has made him fearful into something more positive.
Weak Aikido is just that, weak. It has nothing whatever to do with what O-Sensei taught. It might be good exercise, it might be a fun way to work out with like minded friends. The dojo can, in fact, be a second family that so many of us crave.
Aikido is an art that is fundamentally about the study of connection. For various reasons it has attracted a group of practitioners who are actually terrified of really connecting. So the fear-based high testosterone boys tend to turn their practice into some kind of martial competition, attempting to cover over their fear with aggression. Folks with less physical prowess tend to go other direction and suck the life out of the practice energetically. Then the two groups snipe at each other over the fact that the other didn't understand O-Sensei's Aikido at all.
In fact, I do not think that either of these groups is doing Aikido as the Founder intended it to be. If ones practice isn't making one less fearful in a substantial way, it cannot be said to have anything to do with the "Art of Peace". Practicing to get strong enough to defeat all enemies isn't really dealing with what makes one fearful. Nor does hanging out with a bunch of like minded folks and enforcing an atmosphere of harmonious cooperation at the dojo. When the practice is designed to make everyone comfortable, it isn't designed to be transformative (except to the most damaged amongst us who may need that to train at all).
Aikido should make us more sensitive but less reactive. It should teach us to have another response to being attacked, physically or emotionally, than to attack back. It should impart confidence without arrogance. It should allow one to interact with ones fellows in a way that doesn't require that they change to fit your insecurities. If it has anything to do with conflict resolution, there needs to be some conflict in the practice so that one can practice resolving it.
All of this start with being honest on the mat. The term for this is "makoto" often translated as sincerity. Insincere attacks, insincere ukemi, will not yield anything of great value. While most people would say that not being fearful is a good thing, I think that most have no actual notion of just how powerful a person is who is no longer operating out of fear. Aikido practice is about discovering this for oneself. Unfortunately it falls short a lot of the time. But that is the fault if the practitioners, not the art itself.