in the style i practice, we have a lot of exercices to developp grounding, speed, body connection, impact and energy-fa jin.
the form is super simple but the exercices are very much all the work.
if you have only the form, can you use your style in a confrontation?
can you use your style even for health ?
what is the importance of the form because all the concepts of the style are in the training methods ?
This is a question well suited for Tim to answer, although I believe he's already implied much of the answer in earlier posts. For instance Tim has written words to the effect that great martial arts practitioners have concentrated on Chi/Nei-Gung (power) exercises more so than on form(s) practice. Also, Tim has often pointed out to prospective martial-arts students that they are best off finding someone who knows a complete art, that is one with all of the (one-&-two-man) drills & exercises, as well as forms.
We've already mentioned that forms vary greatly between systems & within systems -- & many meanings of ancient forms have been lost over time. Some martial artists have spent decades researching possible meanings to the various parts of their systems' form(s). Some forms are short, some are lengthy. Others are made up of simple body movements, while others contain some elaborate, even gymnastic movements.
The creator of a form is perhaps the only one who really knows the form; nevertheless, a student can learn to coordinate his body movement, develop a muscle-memory of a systems' movements, & [if told (or if he/she discovers) combat applications of some of the parts of the form] useful techniques. Tim has mentioned that principles of a system can be learned thru forms practice. Recall that it's believed that some forms were developed to incorporate specific techniques favored by the respective creators, while other form were created to teach a range-of-motion, body mechanics, & concepts from which tens of thousands of techniques (with all their possible variations) my present themselves.
Drills & exercises also overlap this same area of range-of-motion, body mechanics, & concepts training. A push-pull exercise can be a pulling of an (opponent's) arm & a pushing of the (opponent's) opposite-side shoulder area; but it could also be applied on a leg & upper-torso area, etc., etc.
Tim's currently working on getting two books published (that I know of): one's his book on power exercises & another is his English-language translation of Sun Lu Tang's Tai-Ji Quan (spelling?). I look forward to both; they may help better answer this line of questioning.
I was "taught" some karate forms back in the 1980's, but since I was given some pretty poor explainations to the individual movements I found them pretty much useless; however, in the 1990's I discovered a video-tape series by Mr. George Dillman (USA) & a video titled "One Strike, One Kill" by a Mr. Vince Morris (UK) which offered more useful explainations -- so now I can use some of the movements that I've learned because I've kept them in mind during practice. Even though there may be many more variations within each part of the forms that I've practiced, at least I have something useful -- & something is better than the nothing I had before when I was given poor explainations. So forms can be used for fighting/learning to fight.
Also Recall that it's believed that the Okinawan masters deliberately "hid" their favorite techniques within their forms as such martial practice was outlawed by the Japanese invaders (thus another use of forms).