Ha! I like to be a helpful douche bag. It is a balancing act.
Normals are extremely important. You can learn far more about a game using normals exclusively than if you did naught but special moves.
Of vital importance is awareness of the depth inherent in a fighting game. A friend of mine, a long time sports game player, recently picked up Capcom Vs SNK 2 and SFA3 for his PSone. He’s been playing the last couple months, came over to my place and asked to play a little SSF4. I picked random characters and used 50% handicap. He played very erratically and won a few matches.
Eventually I had him stop, said I’d “open his mind” to how deep the game is with showing him one of the simplest mix ups there is. I verified that he knew you had to block high against a jumping attack, told him that I was going to jump kick him and he needed to defend, which he did. I told him we would do it again but I’d attack after, I jump kicked him, he blocked, I swept him. Again, jump kick, block, crouch lk, low block, crouch lk, low block. Again, jump kick, block, c.lk, low block, throw. Again, jump kick, block, throw. Again, empty jump, throw.
His mind was blown. He had no idea that the game was played on that level. I told him to examine every action taken by his opponent and himself and try to look for all the branching options, that everything in the game will present him with an option, even if it is as simple as blocking high or low.
If you are approaching footsies as walking back and forth and throwing moves out at random you are failing to actually perform footsies, you are simply aping what you have seen others do without any understanding of what you are mimicking.
If I throw out a “random” standing mk (Dan’s best poke) from outside of it’s range I do so hoping my opponent will try to beat my poke, say with a long range standing hk that has enough start up frames to allow for Dan’s leg to retract out of the way before the active frames allow the move to connect and that my recovery will happen with enough time for me to punish them or gain some positional advantage.
Or maybe I hope they will try to punish with a fireball, which I jump over and kick them in the face. The point is that you need to be aware of the options available to your opponent and how you will react to each.
As it sits now, I will lose to a marginal Rose player after a 10 win streak against decent players using more common characters. Why? Due to numerous holes in my knowledge of the options available to a person using Rose, not having the range and speed of her moves ingrained at that low “instinctual” level that I do for someone like Ryu, and, related to the first point, not having a database of common tendencies in choices made by a Rose player when presented with a given situation.
That “database” is when you bring your knowledge of both characters and the game engine to bear on playing the other PLAYER. Which is what fighting games are all about.