an interesting summary. And I want to say you were very much on the right track. I have done very much what you did with excellent results a number of times:
John Bowers wrote:
I stepped in between and put my hands up which he came against...[i] repeated the female managers last request to him. Next thing I know I can't see for a half a second because I got clocked with a big right.
Okay...not the getting clocked part, but stepping in, putting the hands up in chudan no kamae, the hands at the level of the offender's sternum.
Your mistake was that you stood there in front of him like this and you let him override the advantage of your position.
When you are in front of him with both hands up and he "comes against" your hands, all it takes is a little push with your hips and you can uproot him and throw him backward, maybe even head-first if he "comes against" your hands with much effort.
Regardless of what has been said, I think your reactions were definitely rooted in aikido. You just didn't have enough experience. Your problem was not insufficient ma-ai, but merely failing to move when he crossed the ma-ai.
A couple of experiences I've had with this precise situation (and those who have read these elsewhere-posted reminiscences are welcome to skip them):
A friend had an acquaintance who was very violent and who liked to brawl. Further, he was not a sporty brawler, but would hit you with anything and in a rage. If you caused him "ANY" pain, he instinctively lashed back in an effort to cause you "twice" that much pain. I had never met this guy and didn't know these things about him. He came to my friend's house while I was there and, while we were all in the backyard, he suddenly came up face-to-face with me and said, "What would you do if somebody was to attack you from right here?"
I had an instant intuition that the big right was coming as soon as I started to answer. He expected me to say, "Well, I would..." BOOM! He was going to hit me.
So when he said, "What would you do if somebody was to attack you from right here?", I said, "THIS!" and dropped my weight, thrust my right foot back and thrust both hands forward at his chest, not quite touching him. Since I was already expecting the right, I was prepared to shove him back hard. His right would not have connected. Also I would have lowered my head as I entered straight into him. This took a blink of an eye and it sort of shocked him.
He could see that he couldn't successfully attack at that moment. He said, "Yeah, that's pretty good." and he walked away. It's probably a good thing I didn't touch him.
Another time, two guys got after me and I maneuvered to the outside of one. When he turned toward me, I entered as before, both hands at his sternum level, and he "came against" my hands. He tried to push me back with his chest, but it caused him to uproot himself and he stopped. The other guy was to my right. If he attacked, I would have groin-kicked the guy in front of me so that I could step forward, out of the other guy's line of attack, and then I would have back-fisted him in the head.
Note that I did not have to do any technique or even apply any strength in either confrontation. It was almost exactly the same thing you did, but I had a lot of randori experience by then, three or four years instead of three weeks.
Still, you were aware of the posture, coordinated movement and use of the "ki arms". And that is the basics. What you learn in the first few aikido lessons is what you do at the highest applications.
You don't have to be a slave to aikido for it to serve your life.
Now, as to striking, it's better not to use a closed hand at all. The deadliest strike in aiki is applied with an open hand (unless you happen to have a weapon).
I say this with a karate background, of course, and I did describe a strategy of groin kicking and backfisting to the head. There was another time when a backfist to the head figured large in my strategy in an encounter with two muggers. Fortunately, again, it was not necessary to use it.
However, since then, I've trained in tai chi, xing yi and baguazhang. Bagua uses the open hand and palm almost exclusively, parrying and redirecting attacks and penetrating with palm strikes to vital areas, delivered with internal power. I would hope that today I would not close my hand in an encounter. It's bad for the ki flow.
""2.) what techniques can you use in a narrow aisle?""
Entering as you did, but surging forward and shoving him back will work nicely if you time it well.
""3.) How in the world do karate folks not mange thier hands in fights? ""
Their hands are always mangled. Mochizuki sensei's first two knuckles looked like one contiguous plate of bone.