I always believe that if you really want to know the essence of any style- you should study its kata. Styles without kata- well... it's just that much less fun.
So far- I have been lucky enough to have an instructor who taught me the application of each movement in the kata I have learnt. I have also learnt later on that not all forms are a rehearsal of combat techniques. Often the kata in itself is an exercise to develop speed or power. In this post I will give a couple of hints on understanding kata better.
Here are some pointers:
1. A slow kata is meant to develop power and technique. This means that you pay should pay attention to aspects such as your stance and breathing, when your muscles have to be relaxed and when which muscles have to tense.
2. Fast katas are meant to develop speed and agility. This is no chance to take shortcuts through movements, though... Best approach is that each defensive movement is to be done as if defending against a real opponent and each attack as if attacking an opponent for real- with full force!
3. Kata movements do not always appear as they would in an actual combat situation. The reason for this is that the movement- if not the entire kata- is meant to teach a principle- not a technique. It is also cautious not to display all your knowledge to potential enemies.
4. Grabs and throws often exist in katas, but not every grab or preparation for the throw is shown in the kata.
5. Because of the technique of "imaging through" an opponent attacks, pulls and pushes in forms are often longer, further and deeper than they would be in real life. This is to encourage you to pull with more force or to hit as though to hit through the target.
6. And- sometimes movements in kata are actually smaller and less detailed than what they would be in real life.
That's it for now. Have fun training. :)