This may sound like a controversial question, but do you think there has been anyone who has surpassed O'Sensei's technical ability? (I'm thinking particularly of Ueshiba's uchideshi or the former and current doshu his son and grandson)
In this old footage of O'Sensei from 1930, his demonstration looks well "soft" - by that I mean his ukes look as if they are very compliant and their ukemi looks exaggerated. They seem to break fall very easily and very dramatically, especially in the hamni handachi waza.
Also he seems to hold his arms out a lot, which make the techniques look unrealistic - it's not so much his uke attacking him but rather complying with his leading...much like a dance!
Now please don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to criticise O'Sensei or Aikido - I have a deep respect for both - it's just that I have seen more convincing Aikido demonstrations that I would recommend to people as examples of the brilliance of this wonderful art over this. It's for that reason I dare to ask the question, because it strikes me odd that I would be more embarrassed to show a demonstration by the founder of Aikido than one of his students or current doshu. It's also got nothing to do with whose Aikido is more martially effective. That is not the point of my observation here. It's purely about technical ability.
If anyone can give an explanation as to what O'Sensei is doing in this old demonstration that I am missing, which would help me appreciate his technique here, I would be very grateful.
Just to answer your question re: holding his arms out and the resultant apparency given to the observer. Another part of Aikido I haven't heard much said about on which I agree. In fact I have heard much said about how people putting their arms out or even hanging their arms out seems to many rather unreal and even 'mew age' sometimes. Many things I have heard but few fit my reality.
To fully understand I would say you would have to first agree or be aware of the fact that he,O'Sensei was in my opinion operating from a transcended level. In other words first let's say he was above the norm even the master norm. Now to get an idea of what he was doing when 'offering' his hand or arm I would advise listening to Hikitsuchi Sensei who was very adamant about what that part of his Aikido was and indeed demonstrated it.
So back to my opinion. There is harmonizing with the opponents motion, action, Ki etc. That in itself is hard enough then there is even 'above that'. In my opinion this is where O'Sensei called it devine. Here he is 'calling out' the persons Ki rather than harmonizing with their attack. Thus he is 'attracting the attack thus already causing it before the other has started it.
I believe there are Japanese terminology which mean this type of thing also but of course being so hard to understand yet alone believe then the translation of such terminology is open to many opinions as to its meaning and what O'Sensei meant by it. One such which I was told sounds very funny in English and all I can say is it means as I have said above. However no doubt someone here who specializes in language could no doubt give many ideas about it. The wording was"saki no saki no saki" (I bet Phi will love this one)
Anyway, on a practice level based on my way of Aikido and centre which I say invites and welcomes then the extending of the hand is actual and symbolic in offering and at the same time inviting, drawing the opponent to attack. It's also like presenting what the opponent wants ie: a target that he thus cannot resist for that is his aim ie: to attack the target. Thus a step towards this would be sen no sen etc.