Regarding flow training
I see 3 different types of 'flowing' partner practice that make the whole: (Blade manipulation and warm up exercises are solo stuff so do not count here)
All three are based on a stimulus/response paradigm. Asking questions, listening to answers. Practicing, Inserting, Testing.
1) - Random Flow
2) - Free Flow
3) - Sparring
The word 'Flow' just describes that these 'questions' are asked in continuous motion - Continuous, physical, motion in space, that is not preset.
- Random Flow has a focus, an aspect that is the point of the practice - The focus could be identifying threat, identifying openings, accuracy in targeting, understanding range, timing, etc etc
In Random Flow training (for a short sword), the feed is often limited to only 4 cuts ... or even 2 at first, so the randomness has parameters and can be calibrated to the skills of the student.
It seems a small thing to offer 2 choices instead of only one, but it makes a huge difference to the learning arc ... at least in in my opinion.
- Free Flow is one step more ... random, but not yet about winning. It is a partner interaction which can be negotiated between the players, or not. Usually each will have an idea of something they want to explore, and rely on the other for the opportunity to insert the ideas they wish to explore. Free Flow is tactically much 'smarter' than Random Flow with the goal of seeing how the pieces fit together and the myriad avenues that each single action creates.
To begin with, neither may know where the flow will go, but they start, and see what comes up.
Generally the pace is measured, with both parties calibrating their movement to the other. It can be fast or slow .... but the most important part is to work IN THE SAME TEMPO as the other.
- Sparring is a fully chaotic place in which to try to win. All the pieces come together here, the individual elements, the tactical knowledge, and the 'reading' and 'writing' abilities. The point is to assess the 'risk to gain' of each decision, to count the hits - most importantly the ones against oneself, find the gaps and glitches, and fix the things that do not work ... alongside stocking the toolbox with all the things that do of course ......
Sparring is not the 'real thing', even if it is as close as most of us will get. It is not the pinnacle of achievement, but just a part of the cycle, and apart from the fact that it is fun, it should also have the purpose of improving skills and generating new questions to answer.
And there are always questions to answer .... just got to find the right ones to ask.