Watch the videos. O Sensei just DID inspired aikido. He undoubtedly selected ukes who could handle the random without getting hurt (much, or often). It took me years to see what he was doing, and even now it’s not especially obvious. I firmly believe that if the ukes hadn’t been exceptionally aware and versatile there would have been broken and writhing bodies littering the mat. When “challenged” he, in what I believe is a very Japanese fashion, picked contests which were not particularly martial, trying to push him over and such. The objective was widely understood in Japan and the results were accepted as proxies for martial ability. Translation to foreign cultures did not always preserve that nuance.
Tohei, as a fairly young student who came to O Sensei late in his career. He was dedicated and talented. He learned the shorthand techniques and systematized many of the “tricks” underlying the barely martial contests. I have no doubt that he could have done and taught the same material Saito sensei chose to emphasize, but putting on a little show is fun. It also fills the dojo and pays the rent.
Musashi, commenting on his times and martial arts instruction, said something like, ‘the flower is regarded as more valuable than the fruit’. Well, when lives aren’t imminently on the line… Who doesn’t like flowers? The difficulty is that many aikido schools have gone so far into “flower arranging” that they are completely unfamiliar with picking fruit.