I know this thread is about a year old, but I like it. First of all, well done to karatemum for doing one of the hardest tests of all in martial arts, which is to turn up for your first lesson when you're older than a kid. In (very late) answer to the quoted point though, yes there is a lot of value in sparring a higher grade. You learn from them. Test their defences. Test your own strategy ideas. And in time, you realise you're not the newbie anymore. You realise you're passing knowledge on to those coming up behind you.