My sifu told me that the forms were used as memory aids to convey the knowledge of the arts as most of the people learning CMA 200-500 years ago were completely illiterate, and so it was an easy way to pack the principles for travel for passing them on in the future. I think that it is often easy to take for granted how easy the internet and video has made the transmission of information and to forget the only way people used to be able to pass the knowledge on was person to person with the teacher using the forms to remind themselves of the principles. although I think the forms should not be considered any more than this, I have also been taught that as the forms were created there was a very thought through reason for the sequence of the sets and the ordered movements in each set. I think there seems to be general consensus that the principles behind the forms and techniques are where the useful application is, but there is disagreement on the best way to unlock those principles for effective application. I think athleticism has its place but it is not the be all and end all. Athleticism can enhance your skilled ability but it cannot replace it. There is a guy 10 years my junior whom I spa with and the fact that he smokes and does more weights than cardio becomes apparent in the accuracy, implementation and strength of his blocks and attacks after about 3 minutes.