I have wondered whether the 3 stage aikijitsu approach is actually better - with the strikes and more linear form to start, then less atemis and more blending, and finally complete blending.
I was lucky — I was already rock-hard when I came to aikido. Studied judo, karate, and played football.
But others — my god! They get a little bump in the face and they stop right in the middle of the waza. They can't take a hit! My god, not a hit, A BLOODY LOVE TAP. (Whiners these days.)
It seems to me that in O'Sensei's time, the people coming to him already had some martial arts training and they were coming to him to work on the finer points. They at least knew something about ken and they knew how to punch somebody in the nose, and well as take a punch. In fact, I think a lot of them came to O'Sensei with a letter or recommendation in hand from some other martial arts teacher.
So, times have changed, conditions have changed. Hell; even in the early days in Chicago, most of us were a pretty rough lot, usually with at least a dozen street fights under our belt. But that's the way it was. People didn't pack heat — they used their fists. Anything else was unmanly. Kicking was even frowned on. (Tells you how old I am!)
But now, everybody packs heat. Go out and try to get some experience fighting these days just gets you a gun-shot wound, or worse.
Times have changed in a lot of ways, but I agree; Maybe aikido training at the basic level needs to be changed.
That's one reason I'm adding some ken practice for kyu-level students. It gives them some way to train on their own. It teaches them posture, footwork, and it gives the weaker ones (the number of which seems to be increasing) a way to build up their grip, arm and shoulder strength.
I also start giving them breakfalls at the earliest possible stage (maybe 3 kyu) to toughen them up. We start out with just a few, and then as they start to get the hang of it, the number increases.
It's not a macho thing; we do it slow, gradual, over time, for the long-haul. The newer students see the older students doing it, and then, eventually, they WANT to do it.
The best way to teach is to get the students to want to do things that are tough; things that people don't normally want to do.