I suppose I'd be one of those "quizzical look" folks he's talking about. When they were practicig the "lock flows" the guys arm was completely relaxed. I've never seen anyone train quite like that. Close, maybe, but never like that. Was it an exagerated example maybe? Same thing with the "sparring."
As for the chess analogy: I think the explanation given to me by Peter about Shodokan fits well. They take basic movements, and build on them step by step. These are designed to teach form, from there the varying degrees of resistance are applied. The only difference between this style and my primary style back in the states is that Shodokan is more structured (you know more of what you'll be practicing and in which sequence you'll be practicing it).
I've played a lot of chess, and I completely agree that you get better by playing people who mix it up. However, the manner in which Matt was "practicing" his openings is a valid method for learning an opening, though he rather simplified it. You take fundemental principles, such as the classical theory of chess where you control the center by occupying it with pieces (as was Matt's opening), and you move in that way. From there, you build on it by practicing via "free-form" (add some resistance). A chess coach will often move through a basic opening like Matt did by saying, "ok play Ruy Lopez, Marshal counter-gambit", but then at random points, ask "what if" questions. You can only do this after memorizing the movements of the opening. Also, to give some perspective, the three moves Matt made would be akin to taking one or two steps in a technique, if that much. There is no real advantage issue yet, unlike when we practice some technique which ends with a dinstinct advantage issue. It would be like facing off with someone in slightly different stances: there's no real contact made yet. Even forgetting about that, there are two things that are going on: the superficial and the dynamic. In my opinion, the superficial would be simply seeing two people cooperatively repeat the same movements over and over again. The dynamic is what those two people are sensing about the positions they get themselves into. In chess, you're getting a sense of the situation by thinking about the dynamic between the various pieces' movements. In budo you're feeling which ways you're moving and in which ways you feel strong or weak. It does require an engagement, and maybe Matt isn't speaking to those who do this already, but simply practicing forms doesn't equal "dead pattern"...in my neophytes perspective anyway. I can practice alone and still learn something about how to move, how to maintain stronger balance, how to move with my whole body. These are obviously just parts of the whole study of budo, but they're valid lessons aren't they? I know several people who, growing up, LOVED to go out and get in fights. Some of these people swing wide telegraphing punches. They learned in a purely "alive" manner, and yet displayed some poor dynamics. Might this not be an example of how there's more to the situation than seems to meet the eye?
Granted, I may be over-thinking the simple message Matt is sending us, and if that's the case, please disregard this as a critique of it, and tell me instead, if anyone is so inclined, what you think of my distinction between the superficial and dynamic events going on in patterned training.