Some people laugh at forms (chuan, kata, hyung, anyos, djurus, poomse, etc), call them a useless dance, and say they're no good for combat or self-defense training at all.
And they could be right!
Then again, maybe there is more to consider...
If forms are practiced only because they must be learned (i.e. going through the motions - something I discussed in my earlier article, "On Drills"), just for show at tournaments, because they look cool, or in any other manner that doesn't place things like intent, applications, power generation, visualization, timing, distance, and combat movement as top priorities, then yes, the form detractors are more right than they are wrong.
Forms practice without those things can be a waste of time at best, and at worst it can provide a false sense of ability or train in movements that the student cannot apply. You don't just get magical fighting prowess by learning to perform a form - it just doesn't happen. The bottom line is that doing the motions in the form by rote, even as a catalog of moves, is just the tip of the iceberg of what forms have to offer a studious practitioner.
Like much of martial arts training, forms are about attribute development. If you let them, they can be a handy solo way of practicing through a variety of movement transitions and timing combinations. The series of moves runs you through a series of shadow-boxing style moves that can exercise your balance, stability, movement, focus, power generation, relaxation, visualization, and more. A lot of this will depend upon how you practice using the "Attitudes" on my website. Like most aspects of practice, you get out of it what you put into it.
Lastly, I would point out that martial arts without recognized forms/kata/hyung/etc actually do work on material in ways that is very similar to forms work. They will work set combinations and explore them like I recommend you do your forms. They will work transition flows as essentially 2-man forms, whether they be standup lock flows, ground-work pins and escapes and reversals, or Filipino weapons drills. They relax into their combinations or drills, learning to feel the flow and power, learning to limit/reduce weaknesses, and making the moves their own - just as should be done with forms work for those styles that train them.
The study and practice of martial arts involves the deconstruction and exploration of many things that can be part of the skills necessary for survival of physical conflicts, and forms work can be one of those many things if you are willing and able.
+Dr. Tye W. Botting began his study of the Chinese martial arts at age 16 in 1981 while living in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia. He has trained in a number of arts since then, but considers the three arts he holds instructor rank in as his core: Northern Shaolin / Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu (black sash since 1989), Modern Arnis (black belt since 1995), and Yang Style Taijiquan (instructor since 1992). He teaches kung fu and Modern Arnis at Tye's Kung Fu, and he founded the original TAMU Kung Fu and TAMU Modern Arnis clubs at the requests of GM Wang in 1989 and Professor Remy A. Presas, Sr., in 1994, respectively. Read more about Dr. Botting's extensive resume and contributions to the martial