I'll start this by reiterating something I've said a number of times before: I feel that various forms of randori/"free play" and pressure testing are Good Things. I also feel that competitive sparring, for the purpose of learning Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, is a Bad Thing.
One question I don't think has been well addressed is that when you take an art designed and intended for combat (quoting Soke from more than one occasion, "(Our) Budo is about killing and living"), and you take that art and spar in a competitive sense, restricting yourself to safer applications, are you actually doing the same art?
The mindset of our Budo is that you're going to survive, no matter what it takes to be the one that goes home safe. For most of us who train, that is "where we are" mentally when someone tries to impose his will on us by force. . .which is what is happening in a self-defense situation. That's also happening in competition, of course, but in the latter case you're also attempting to impose your own will on the other person -- to prove you're better, etc. For me, at least, if someone wants to "compete" with me (since I'm not into that) I go to the same mental place I do when it's a self-defense situation: I'll do whatever is necessary to keep him from imposing his will on me by force.
Now, a number of people have remarked that "the way you'll train is the way you'll fight". Taking this out of the realm of purely physical combat for a minute and to a peripherally related example, in the executive-protection training programs my company provides, the training is presented at a high-threat level. Given that most agents will spend more time operating at medium or even low threat levels than high, why do this?
Because years and years of experience have shown that if you're trained to that sort of standard, it's very easy to scale down to deal with lower-threat missions effectively. But the converse is NOT true at all. If all your training and experience are to low-threat standards and environments and you need to suddenly ramp up for a high-threat situation. . .
. . .Well, you may get lucky and get through it by extrapolating from what you do know, and find that it's good enough to get you by. There's a much greater likelihood that your paycheck -- um, 'scuse me, I meant to say your principal -- will end up dead. But you won't need that continuing income, because you will be too.
Now, with a combat martial art you can also "scale back" if it's appropriate to do so and you find that it's feasible. Example: Couple of years ago I broke up a fight in a cafe, where one man assaulted another with a bottle. I physically controlled them both simultaneously and protected them from each other, without injuring either of them, and they nicely stayed there for me until the police arrived to have a little chat with them and the (many) patrons who witnessed the incident. But in the midst of it I also noticed that I was holding one of them in such a way that I could have dislocated his neck with just a slight body movement if he got hinky on me; and at one point finding it appropriate to reposition him a bit, as I did so I could have snapped his elbow.
Easy to adjust to a lower-level threat, if you're trained for a high threat level. Easy to go from a lower-level response to a higher-level one, if you specifically train to "live there".
With sparring. . .Well, you try to put me in a "competitive" situation and things get to the point where I feel threatened, I'm not going to just try to do more of whatever already isn't working. That would be contrary to the core concepts and principles of the arts I train in. You're now, mentally, kicking me over into "survival" mode.
I suspect that a lot of people have a mistaken impression of Hatsumi sensei's art because they don't really understand (from outside the art) what they're seeing, or (from inside it) are not training properly.
As an example -- since it's the focus for this year's training theme -- let's take a quick look at Shinden Fudo ryu. If you look at Hatsumi's '92 training video from Quest and that's your only exposure, you'll think you're seeing a lot of locks, throws, and submission-type stuff going on, for the simple reason that the full "correct" applications are not being emphasized; nor are the movement concepts that link everything together comprehensively.
This is not some form of jujutsu, but dakentaijutsu, and the latter seems to be misunderstood by many even in the Bujinkan. Answers.com, for instance, says "Dakentaijutsu is the striking component of taijutsu. It's an especially common term in ninjutsu."
Well, not really: Dakentaijutsu doesn't necessarily involve striking at all. It translates roughly as something like "striking fist body art". Doesn't mean you're always hitting; rather, it's a "knack" of using the body in such a way that things you do -- including grappling and throwing -- tend to be done in a way that has the effect of a strike on your opponent. . .while you're also attacking nerves, tearing muscles, breaking/dislocating bones, etc.
In the case of Shinden Fudo specifically, there's also a lot of use of "forces of nature" such as gravity. As an example, let's take the kata Gekkan. If you look at the Quest SFR video, you'll see it starts with tori standing in the primary physical posture of this ryu, shizen no kamae. Uke does a right punch; tori shifts out of the way and receives with the left arm, takes uke's right shoulder with the right hand, does a right kick into the gorin point on the body to "fold" him, then brings him face-down to the ground and follows in with an arm lock. That's pretty much what you'll see.
That's not how I was taught in the last two "Shinden Fudo" cycles ('92 and '98), and that's not how it's being emphasized in training in Japan right now. Apart from the fact that how you get from receiving the punch to taking his shoulder without getting nailed by something else isn't really emphasized on the tape, what's s'posed to be happening is that you don't just bring him face-down, you also "use nature" by pile-driving your weight down from above and hitting him in the face with the environment; and that "lock" isn't a submission hold, you drop your weight in to tear out the shoulder. . .like an avalanche flowing downhill.
The ryu is riddled with this kind of thing -- throws or takedowns at angles causing the opponent to break or tear things, "locks" that are actually body-strikes against joints, etc. Quite apart from the obvious risks of competing with those kinds of techniques, I would posit that if you modified them for "safer competition" you literally would not even be doing the same art anymore, because you would not be using the methods according to their original purpose and design.
Here's another example of how looks can be deceiving -- this picture below caught just before my uke hit the ground, from a Shinden Fudo ryu seminar I did in southern California the weekend before last. Some kind of ground-grappling/submission thing going on, right?
Nope, not at all. What happens next is that about the point he hits the ground, my left heel hooks into the area of the left occipital fossa and the right heel crunches into the right temple. Either of these could be nasty enough in themselves, but this also conveniently tends to break or at least severely stress the neck, and things continue to flow into an arm break and then I'm either back on my feet or rolling away somewhere. No submission, just a couple of seconds from start to finish, and the opponent is not going to be ready for Round Two.