Don, from what I can tell, you're truly a student and that's what makes you a good teacher. I tend to really like your posts. Thank you.
The act of sparing is teaching me how to use this motion of the jab. No instructor can teach it. It requires me to get punched in the face and punch people in the face until I learn it.
In a nutshell, I think the problem with every art lies with the gap between thinking about technique and simply acting. We learn by thinking about how we're oriented to our partner and the step by step process in which we accomplish the prescribed movements. This tends to cause one to think about what they're doing instead of organically doing it. However, I don't think one has to get punched in the face to learn how to avoid it.
But anyways, sparing is a lot more then just body conditioning or exercise. It is the best way to teach someone how to learn to apply the theory they are learning everyday in class. I feel sorry for those out there who do not understand why they are doing it and what they can gain with the right mindset. I feel even more sorry for those who don't do it at all
I don't like to use absolutes like "best" but I would agree it can be a very good way of doing things. I don't spar in my dojo, but I do get to experience reversals whenever a fellow student senses an opening (up to a point). This kind of spontaneous learning, I
think, accomplishes most of what sparing is meant to accomplish. Speed is the only thing I think it lacks, but even that graduates over time as one student becomes familiar with what another can handle.
Getting the feel for Aikido is what the training is about; not techniques. Techniques are vehicles for that feeling and I know I've surprised more than one of my buddies (and myself) with how i responded to their attempts at sparing...and they have a lot more real-life fight experience than I have ever had (0 wins; 0 losses; 0 draws).