Re: Really, grab my wrist!
Excellent questions/comments. Basic waza can seem useless at times but there is a method to the madness. Eventually I started to see various ways to apply techniques from non-standard grabs. Sankyo is sankyo regardless of the initial attack. Nikyo is nikyo even if the uke is not grabbing my wrist or chest. They are tools for my tool belt. I did find it amazing that if I put my wrist into someones hand they would grab it on instinct.
I guess my point is that it took a long time (many years) for me to move past the A,B,C method and start to flow. Now I can "set people up" like a chess game. Also, there is so much more to Aikido than wrist locks. Not getting (significantly) hit is a skill I learned.
But back to your topic, some aikido dojo's do practice "magic" aikido. You know, the kind stuff that is not realistic and will make the aikidoka useless in a fight due to unrealistic expectations. I remember visiting another dojo several years ago and the sensei pointedly told me to "watch out, she's a brown belt" (I was a 4th kyu at the time) so I thought she would be a good partner to train with. It was tenshin nage time so I grabbed both her wrists. Instead of having my balance taken I got a pair of deer eyes looking at a bright light. She couldn't budge me. So I told her I was going to drag her to some bushes and started to pull her towards the edge of the mat. I then asked her what she was going to do about it and she finally tried to kick me. That was when I let her go and just started going through the motions. The point was proven; this dojo did NOT teach self defense aikido. They just went through the motions and congratulated each other on how well they where doing. Essentially it was one big ego stroke job with no practical value in regards to self defense. Other dojo's where the opposite and trained with their game faces on. Serious about defending them selves.
So to sum up my long rambling post: Each dojo is different. Aikido is aikido but the methodology can vary greatly. Also, learning the principle of a technique and using the technique will also vary greatly.