What’s the role of atemi anyways? I’ve always thought that it’s about giving the nage more time by distracting uke and creating a situation where blending can continue. Thus the atemi shouldn’t stop uke, just redirect the attacking strike or move uke to a position where off-balancing can take place. Atemi doesn’t really even make contact with atemi points and is usually slow enough for uke to see in time. This way uke has a chance to dodge either by moving their body or changing the attacking strike into a block.
To achieve this effect, uke cannot know that the atemi is not intended as a counter-attack. They have to think that, for example, the nukite will strike their trachea and cause damage. They have be be afraid of the atemi and act accordingly.
Too often even the yudansha forget this in day to day practice. Take yokomen-uchi attack for example. No matter if the entry is irimi or tenshin form, both entries contain an atemi. It’s not uncommon that when you make an open handed reach for uke’s face, they just stand there, not react in any way. They know that this is aikido, we don’t hit people. Atemi is just a threat. Atemi in aikido is void. I disagree. The role of uke is to attack and keep attacking until they cannot. Thus they have to dodge counter-strikes, always be aware where nage is, look for openings in nage’s technique and continue with additional attacks. If uke doesn’t react to the atemi in nage’s entry, this basically signals that they’ve lost their will to attack and nage really has no need to execute a technique. Uke should always remember that they don’t know what will happen, they should always think of every atemi as a blow that could permanently injure them.
Some people have commented that is look silly that whenever someone strikes an atemi towards my face, I pull my head back, move my body to dodge, even close my eyes. I don’t do this because I want to perform demonstration aikido and want the nage’s technique to look good. It’s because I strive to forget that the other person will not hurt me. I moved in to hurt the nage by trying to strike them, and I expect them to do the same for me. I try to dodge the counter-strike and search for a position from where I can launch my counter-counter-attack. It may look silly, but in the mind of the uke, the only thing that matters is who throws the last punch.