As we know, most traditional martial arts training begins with forms play (katas). Forms are good as they catalogue the array of techniques of the respective style, it can also be loosely seen as a type of shadow boxing. However some practitioners focus solely on forms whilst falsely believing that it encompasses all facets of martial training. Mind you if it is the practitioners objective to utilize the forms for acrobatic/performance nature then that is a different story altogether, as it is the artistic element that they are attaining (i.e. Wushu demonstrations showcasing forms).
On the other side, if a practitioner truly wishes to attain pragmatic combative ability then they must also focus on other areas. These include bag/pad work (striking punching bags and having a feeder to work target mitts while you apply combos in a dynamic manner) which are essential to building power and timing. Physical conditioning is another important step. This entails cardio and strength training, as a certain amount of strength and endurance are required if you plan on using you skills against a live opponent(s). Which leads to the next stage, sparring (including chi sau, luk kiu, etc). This is required to gain perspective on distance, speed, and timing. There are different levels of sparring ranging from point no-contact to full power. To gain FULL potential in your combative value, full power and speed must be used (of course you may always choose to tone down the level of power if that is your preference, but keep in mind this will cause a reduction of training efficacy accordingly). Some practitioners may argue that certain techniques would be too deadly to use at full power. This can be offset by safety equipment ranging from the wide variety of head guards, chest protectors, and gloves which are available and can be worn to suit the practitioner preferences. Still others would argue that the big 16 oz boxing gloves would hinder certain hand techniques. Certainly this can be solved by using open finger gloves such as the 4-6 oz mma glove which allows the practitioner to apply any and all ranges of motion as a bare hand would while still providing safety.
In conclusion Martial arts focusing on the combative side should be trained as such. Comparitvely looking at other athletic endeavours such as hockey, a player gets on the ice with the proper gear, a baseball player does more than just play catch with his dad, and as Bruce Lee stated: "a swimmer cannot train on dry land, they must get into the water to do that". So in a nutshell a martial artist who wants to acquire combative skills should then do more than just play forms…
Be without ego, have respect, and train hard.