Chris, hang on a second, let me re-phrase so that this isn't a barb-trading session.
My opinion is that focusing on form primarily is best when it comes to weapons training. Free sparring, particularly where you purposely open up the adrenaline throttle to max as a means of "pressure testing" your technique is a good experience if you are careful to prevent injury, but it is not good as a primary tool until you have advanced quite a bit.
You brought up an example of the evolution of BJJ training and stated that it kind of doesn't matter whether you focus on form entirely up front or get students into free application situations from the start, they will ultimately end up as good as they are going to be.
What I am saying is, that's not training for life and death situations you were talking about there. If you are an instructor of a competitive grappling system and you are trying to produce competitive students, then, sure, get them into the ring as soon as possible. Let them learn how to apply themselves in that situation and learn to win and lose in parallel with training proper technique.
If, however, you were a sword master and you had people sending their sons to you, you would probably not encourage them to get into a lot of duels. Because statistics would most likely show you losing lot of students.
There is an argument for contrived, rules-bound free sparring as a means of preparing for lethal combat, but you have to agree that in combat sports, you can DO what you are training for, at the dojo. In a martial art that deal with lethal situations, you cannot engage in what you are training for at the dojo.
This isn't a particularly new argument I am making here, and it is just my opinion.
This speaks partly to my post, so I will add some comments. First, I think we all can acknowledge that sport fighting is not within the paradigm in which aikido is contrived. Rules, forced engagement, single combat all point to a different type of fighting - not that we cannot participate but I understand the different rules of engagement. However, the notion that sport fighting is the only form of competition we have available is not accurate. I think the spirit of the thread is directed at solutions for improving our aikido. As I said in my previous post, I think a competent uke applying competent fighting skills is the
primary tool we have in aikido for improvement. I present this stance for both training in empty-hand and weapons techniques.
If my partner can cut me faster than I can cut him, the solution does not lie in decreasing my partner's intensity and skill, but improving mine. The difference in participating in this type of training is that I need to differentiate when I am learning what to do and practicing doing what I know.