Asian martial arts devote a lot of time on practising forms, and here we want to show how a form should be practised: By breaking it down into sections and use them in sparring.
Originally, there was no such thing as a form (or kata, to go by Japanese terms), and forms were created for solo practice. If we have think of the martial arts as a distinctive art form, then it is more akin to Jazz than anything else. Think about the premises of all martial arts. The goal is to neutralize a threat as fast as possible, but in order for the threats to be credible, they cannot be fathomable prior to engagement, for, otherwise, they would not be perceived as a threat since they are already known and, thus, ripe to be countered. To put it in another way, nobody would attack or defence in any given fixed way, and any pre-determined ways of reaction would be a detachment from reality, as the slightest of change in position and pressure can mean a world of difference. In short, the level of skills in martial arts is not determined by strength, speed, or how “perfect” a move is performed, but how one can adjust to change and dictate the change themselves. That is not to say strength and speed are not important; it is just that they are elements within the terms of the equation.
That said, however, one must understand the patterns of movement before they can adjust, change, and improvise in a way that is martially sound. This is where forms are useful, as a form usually chains together a set of movements following a line of logic. It is best to think of it as an étude in music, where the student can learn to understand scale and other techniques in a short piece. Therefore, like practising music, if we want to make the practice of forms effective, we must first understand the lines of logic within the forms and why certain moves are performed following what logic.
Thus, what is Abstract (摘要 zhāi yào) then? Literally, it means drawing out the essences (the English word abstract comes form Latin abstratus, “drawn away”). The idea here is to distil the whole Mantis System into several discernible frameworks so the practitioners can practice and think about those essences on their own. The 1st Stanza of Abstract No.4 as shown here combines couple elements together: First, we start by striking the eyes, then we follow the resistance to bind with the opponent’s arm and strike with a cross, then we move into wrestling, and if the opponent moves away, we can follow up with a kick. The idea here is that of an continuous flow moving across the measures (distance of engagement, for instance, striking distance and kicking distance etc.) For this reason, we consider flourishes unnecessary fluffs. Forms do not need to look good; they should look reasonable as in fitting with what the moves are attempting to achieve. Beauty in martial arts comes from matching the movements with physics, not how pleasing to the eyes they are.
When a practitioner is practising a form by themselves, they should always imagine that they are applying the moves on a real person. When practising with a partner, they should pick a section, adopt a sparring mindset, try to perform the moves as real as possible, but without the intention to block the opponent’s every single move, so one can see how the moves are performed and the other can learn how to react and/or move away. When the practitioner becomes more advance, they should pick a technique from the form and practice improvisation.