(Warning: long rambling)
Excellent thread. Many good ideas, and it managed to really stir up some (of my) thoughts. Now that idea of more spontaneity training is kind of confusing me a bit. We do this as well (mostly evasion drills against several attackers with or without light attacks), and I think it's great. But it seems to run counter to (what I perceive of being) the traditional kata-based approach.
I recently read that great interview with Kuroda Sensei (http://www.bugei.com/kuroda.html
), who essentially said that he learned everything from diligent training of the kata. And the Shu Ha Ri approach also seems to me to "suppress" all spontaneity during the "Shu" stage, which most "non-professional" martial artists rarely get out of.
Now I'm trying to resolve that "conflict" between the two approaches. "Train for spontaneity from the start" seems to bring students faster to an "applicable" level of skill, but it might actually ingrain bad habits that are hard to get rid of again in the long run. On the other hand the "perfect form first" approach certainly requires more patience.
Now I have to interrupt that train of thought because I feel it misses the point. Maybe a more useful angle is this:
From what we know of great teachers, (almost) pure kata training can produce excellent results. I think we can agree on that. But it is certainly not easy to learn from kata, and neither is teaching them properly. I guess the largest part of the perceived problem with the "forms" crowd is that most students -- and teachers -- don't really penetrate to the meaning
of the practiced kata and thus only learn a fraction of the knowledge they are designed to impart. Forms for forms' sake, as was already said.
So, in theory, one can become an excellent (in the sense that word has been used in this thread so far) aikidoka by doing forms training only. If (big "If") one is highly motivated and interested and has an excellent teacher who thoroughly understands the kata. But for most people it is very helpful to mix in some freeform / spontaneity training (a) to give them some usable skills before they retire and (b) to help illustrate the martial aspects in the kata. As long as the spontaneity drills are designed and executed in a way that minimizes the building of bad habits.
Well, that got quite a bit longer than I intended and morphed from a kind of question to basically a dump of my thought process *g*. Maybe someone can make some sense of it though