Old styles of Martial Arts had Katas that trained the body in levels of progression. You were not allowed to learn a new Kata unless you had mastered the prior Kata. With a style comprised of only one, two or three forms, this was still a life pursuit, but deeper than in modern times.
Progressions were varied, depending on the particular style and method of combat, health or conditioning that style sought. In modern times, less depth was taught and replaced with more Kata to bridge the gap and link with greater numbers of Kyu and Dan ranks.
In today's world it is now up to the individual Martial Artist to select a handful of Kata to study and build their own personal progression based on their skill, physical abilities and personal tastes. It must also fit the individual from their more athletic youth through their less athletic older age, so as always to be usable as well as continue to provide more and more depth and efficiency.
We offer one idea of a progression that will take an individual through the difficult beginning stages and progress through their full tenure in the arts. These will build a strong foundation as well as infinitely advance as does the Martial Artist,
Tensho (天正) - This is a great foundation Kata for any Martial Artist that is easy to learn at any age,yet will forever be in their arsenal. As there are no kicks this Kata will last throughout their lives, but is so profound as to give greater skill as they progress. The Hands of Shaolin (as found in the Bubishi) are trained with loose snapping wrist actions using specialized hand formations. These hands are able to penetrate the opponents body with short sharp blows that require little distance, strength or velocity to make them efficient and effective. The Kata is of the White Crane tradition using Yang outward, expansive concussion to attack the opponent. This loose, relaxed body condition is not natural in high stress, so that the conditioning of the body through sheer repetition ingrains it and sound body position to deploy.
Sanchin (三戦)- This is a great intermediate Kata as it prepares the body muscles, tendons and bones to not only protect the individual from attack, but also to prepare the body for the following form that requires higher degrees of tendon and muscle strength. Again the body actions are simplistic with few moves and no kicking, so that the practice will always be possible. It is more a transitory Kata from the Crane aspects of Tensho, into the Tiger aspects of Seiunchin.
Seiunchin (制引戦) - (in Chinese, first word translates as control, the second word is guide or lead, the third work is conflict). Many have translated this to mean quietly marching far, whereas others say it means pulling (which would be controlling and leading another). This Kata is the essence of the Tiger, in the pulling and tearing actions it contains. It has the penetrating abilities of the Tiger and uses rising and sinking actions to utilize body weight as opposed to strength. The sinking and pulling actions are enacted through the proper hand tools learned in Tensho, with the muscle constriction of Sanchin, with added sinking methods to create greater affect with less muscle strength. Again it has no kicks, but is far more advanced in it's physical actions than either the Tensho or Sanchin.
Progression - All three forms are training tools of Inner (Internal Skills - Heishu (closed)) and Outer (External Skills - Kaishu (open)) that are physical, mental and energetic in their capacity.
These are just examples that can serve as a model to fashion your own individual skills... you are encouraged to seek your own path, adhering to tradition, not imprisoned by it.