Ah, I see what you mean, K.Interesting that you seem to be in favour of these drills. I actually threw them all out of my training when I switched styles. I can understand their benefit if you are point sparring but for me, that's where it all ends. In our training I reckon a lot of the drills were straight out unrealistic in a combat sense. Could I ask, what benefit do you get performing them?
This is true. There are a lot of flowery and showy techniques to be found in these drills. The forms to be found in the Mantis Boxing style usually have a lot of seemingly impractical or pretentious movements. I myself don't know why there there (or maybe I just haven't figured it out yet), but more often than not as a whole they present a comprehensive "flavor" of the martial art, to use Dr. Yang Jwing Ming's jargon.
Philip Starr, author of two books on the TMA's (Martial Mechanics and Martial Maneuvers) pointed out that such forms are merely textbooks (from which I use the same analogy for convenience). In Xingyi Quan, the idea is that the five basic strikes branch out into an endless number of variations and applications, tweaked and varied according to circumstance. This is why although as a MA XYQ is relatively compact, to be able to use it proficiently in combat may take a little longer, as with any martial art I'm sure. Interestingly enough, in the same book he bashes Xingyi Quan practitioners who keep insisting on using only the five foundational strikes for all times and places, and moving forward or backward only, a literal interpretation of Xingyi Quan's "Line of Attack" and linear fighting style. He also bashes students who mistake "Sticky Hands" training for actual combat practice.
I suppose my point is that although any idiot can learn kata's/forms/pum-se's, it takes true applied wisdom and experiental knowledge in that art to be able to discern what may work for you, single it out and tweak it to your liking - adjusting it to fit your needs, but based on the general principles of the art. But while that may be the case (at least IMHO), that does not downplay their importance in the development of the martial artist. Before one can begin to apply what is learned in the dojo/training center/gym, one has to be introduced to the basic movements and mechanics of the art.
I like to think that everything learned between getting your first white belt and finally getting your black belt is like learning the alphabet as a child. They're the building blocks - simple but essential. On their own and in isolation they may not mean anything, but it's in how you string them together to elaborate concepts and ideas that make you fluent.
Needless to say but I'll say it anyway, I'm not taking a dump on people who think that forms are useless. Everyone has their own preferred method of instruction/learning, but I find that the statement "drilling -insert form or kata here- is useless and a waste of time. Spar instead!", is also unfair. While it is true that practicing forms all day will not make you a better fighter in itself, at least running through them once a day as a supplement to your static drills, sparring and S&C routines will ensure you have a solid root for your practice. It's meditative in nature - a state where thought is no longer required; your movements have been drilled so often that they are almost second nature.
Xingyi Quan's Pi Quan (or "Splitting Fist") on its own may not be much, but do it enough and try to set some time aside to understand it and you may find, for example, that besides the face, you can target the shoulder to transition into a Qin Na lock, use it as a deflecting counter-strike against an incoming one from your opponent, or to grab an outstretched limb and pull your opponent into you, setting him/her up for the Zuan Quan, the Xingyi Quan "Drilling Fist", which you may aim at the face or chin as is classically taught, but may also be used to target the throat, the solar plexus, or the collar bone.
To first be even able to comprehend the two moves I mentioned above, I will have to understand their basic movements and mechanics, which is what the forms will teach me.