I've asked myself this question as well. When did I consider myself an actual martial artist? When I reached black belt? No way! Then i only THOUGHT I was skilled. When I first ranked up in belt? Are you serious, i couldn't defend myself from a fly! When i had put a few years into it? Since when did hours = skill?
After much debate with myself, I figured out that one can consider themselves a martial artist once they except and gain the confidence and understanding to realize that although they know a lot, they know nothing at the same time. That although they could defend themselves, they could also be beaten just as easily. That although they are skilled, they could stand to improve on so much more. And most importantly, a martial artist is someone who makes martial arts a part of their lives, a true passion, and not just someone who practices it for fun.
you don't call someone who simply likes to write poetry a poet. You just say that they like writing poetry. Just the same, you don't call Someone who simply likes martial arts a martial artist, you just say they practice a martial art.
my two cents
That is a great question and to me its not about practicing the martial arts but rather living the martial arts. You dont have to always have it on your mind but seeing yourself mentally do something is every bit as important as physically doing it. ALos thinking of ways to make the move your own. Also alloowing the martial arts to make you a better person