For me forms help you with your trainin and show your lineage.
I was always told that fighting and forms go hand in hand. How you do your forms is how you fight.
Some forms are for long rang fightin, close in fightin, balance, power, conditioning & speed.
I can feel the power of the Darkside pulling me.
An absolute must in my opinion, they provide a solid foundation to work from.
As several members have remarked, it very much depends 1) on the particular MA, and 2) what you want to get out of that art.
If you are practicing any form of Okinawan or Japanese Karate, my answer would be that Kata is *vital*.
Another point no one has mentioned: Kata you can do your whole life; I have been in classical Karate for 42 years, so I have some experience here. In many other arts people simply drop out of them because beyond competition and drills of various types (partner or with equipment) there is nothing else. Kata is always doable.
Karate begins and ends with Respect.
Kata is the foundation that you build from. Without kata you areimply a fighter ( and there is nothing wrong with just being a fighter) but you have missed some important training if you want to be a complet martial person.
Kata not only helps one learn proper movement but there is a mental side to kata also.
There is also much in some kata that one learns from experence that is not shown when one first learns these forms. Yes, you may learn the same lessons without kata but then again you may not.
Don't do what you can't undo, until you've considered what you can't do once you've done it.
a saying of king shrewd in Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb
I say #2. We take a LOT of examples from our katas and have extremely practical uses for them.
2nd Degree Black Belt
Fabiano's Karate || Equipping You With Life Skills
When I was in taekwondo, I have always thought that forms are very boring and never gave any time studying it, except when in the dojo(I was young back then). But when you are in an MMA gym, all you do is condition, do mitts, punch bags, roll, etc. I found this routine very unsatisfying and being the person that I am, I wanted to know about history, forms, proper execution etc. At this point, this was the point where I wanted to find a school where they still practice the forms, bowing, and other rituals, I said to myself that any martial art will do. Now that I am in Karate, I find that forms are a huge part of the discipline. I realized that martial arts isn't only about fighting but it is also about conditioning the mind and forming habits. And as many people have said before, it is where we can practice technique, balance, fundamentals, etc.
So I say 1) Necessary