But, to be very specific, this is not a realm of learning where "points" hold the sole purchase. The shodan could have reached this same conclusion from sincere training, couldn't he have?
I would say yes, but I've really struggled with this one. A lot of our training takes on a very consistent pattern. We do the same things with the same people over and over. We establish agreements that can stay the same for years unless disturbed somehow. The sempai/kohai etiquette can also get in the way along with our own issues as well. I was unfortunate (or fortunate) to wind up the senior person in the first dojo I trained at 2 years in. The thing I really learned from that experience is that sensei and sempai, for that matter, make fewer mistakes than kohai do. I remember teaching as a brown belt and everyone would tell me how great a class it was. As a brown belt? Not a chance. People fell most of the time too. Again, I don't think so.
I think competition might encourage the beginner, who would normally be afraid of offending their seniors, to attack with a bit more gusto. It can also encourage different ways of looking at things and increase creative responses. I think competition could also spur evolution of a sort.
On the other end, a question for the Tomiki folks comes to mind. Competition (like life in this specific context) tends to favor youth, strength, speed and athleticism. We talk a lot in Aikido about this not being the case, and skill with experience does count, but all things being equal these variables win out in physical competition. How do you address the fact that someone older, slower or whatever will have a significant disadvantage against someone younger?