Re: Why do we do it?
Let me preface my comment by saying that I am pursuing aikido that has martial validity. That said, it is rather difficult to piece together what was deliberately removed from the art many years ago and also find those components that, while not removed, were lost. I think that as a general observation, I understand the [outside] perspective that mainstream aikido is not martially valid.
A teacher I respect remarked, "why practice a hobby that consumes your life, your time, and your money, if in the end not to excel at that hobby?" Jason spoke about aspirations in his post. Hobbyists seek enjoyment in what they do, that they gain proficiency in that hobby is a benefit. Professionals require excellence as a component of their career. It is a rare thing that our profession and enjoyment are the same (let that be a lesson to any baseball player out there who bemoans his million-dollar contract to play a game). In this sense, I think it is fair to admit that aikido carries with it less "professionalism" than other arts. Even fishing and bowling are considered "professional" sports. We have no banners, sponsors, patches upon our uniforms, trophies to display. We are, in most respects, hobbyists plodding along doing something we enjoy. This is often a alien concept for a professional fighter, or even an amateur fighter or hobbyist who trained under an expectation to perform
The aikido in which I train instills a sense of martial competency and awareness. It is our study to create deliberate scenarios which catalyze the expression of aiki. The observation of non-aiki related interaction (such as sport competition) is german, but tangental to, the study of aiki. In this study, we learn to respect and understand the dynamics of fighting, and in some sense apply those dynamics to a fighting situation.
When I hold these conversations, I typically do not:
1. Let someone clip me with a "it doesn't work" slight. Aikido works - if you wish to critic my aikido, I will accept that comment.
2. Let someone clip me with a "unconvincing attack" slight. Good grabs work - again, if you wish to point out specific instances of poor attacks, fine.
3. Belittle the question. Many people ask because they truly want to know what motivates us, providing an elitist answer is often as bad as an unconvincing one.
In truth, I think many other martial artists see mainstream aikido in a poor light. However, much to the same argument, I can point out entire park districts full of BS karate or take yo' do. As it would be in poor taste for me to point out these under-performers as demonstrative of their art, I often point out that looking at bad aikido is not qualitative vetting either.
When other martial artists approach me with this question (or similar), I often take that as a positive dialogue that the individual wants to learn more about aikido and they believe that I may have a better answer than what they have previously found. I think many of these individuals are confused by the contradictory claim that aikido is a martial art, while professing the opposite most of the time. Fighting falls within their realm and they are curious as to: 1. why people who detest fighting participate in a fighting art and 2. claim that aikido is equally valid as other fighting arts. I think these are fair curiosities and we have an obligation to address them.
Or we can always call them neanderthals or some other derogatory name and dismiss their brute intellect...