Classes started last week after a longer than normal break. Two things stuck out for me.
The first was how much my shoulders were sore the next day. I can't recall doing anything unusual except for some extra sparring drills at the end of class. These worked on covering large distance and speed. The Sanchin testing was not particularly hard either (the shoulder muscles are also tested for tightness, to check your balance and how 'grounded' you are). Spooky.
The second, and more important to me, is even with a relatively small class where the ranks are within 1-2 kyus of each other, we always seem to use the same partner for two-man drills (bunkai, Kyu kumite).
I stood back for a second to see how the dynamics work (who would seek out who) and nothing really changed from last session. This is in spite of our Sensei advocating working with different partners. Working with the same partner over and over may help you prepare for a rank promotion test, but not your overall technique or even your basic ability. It actually hurts your advancement.
These drills aren't going to necessarily help you in an actual ambush or a bar fight, but working with different partners helps you adjust and use you skill in these drills more effectively. If you work with a shorter person, you get used to his or her reach, attack speed, etc. If you suddenly have to work with a taller partner with unknown reach, attack speed, etc, you will get flustered and be more likely to screw up the drill. It's happened with me and I see it with other students too. I am going to try to break this up a bit.
Overall working with different partner types (men v women, tall v short, more experienced v less experienced) will increase your brain's ability to quickly adjust to different 'threats'. Conditioning your brain in this way can be applied to every aspect of your martial art and in life. Most importantly, you learn to react better and this alone could save your behind.