Martial arts is one of the most empowering, life-altering experiences one can have. However, it is not an immediate change: this artform itself is a STUDY that takes many years of practice to perfect. I often hear comments about from people regarding this, comments that come from many different trains of thought.
One: some people think that the artform should progress much faster than it actually does. Indeed, a TRUE martial arts instructor will not move his/her students quickly through the ranks: ask most of them around, and they will tell you it takes several years to become a black belt. Then most of these same instructors will tell you that once you've achieved black belt, THIS is when the real training begins. We often hear about belt factories. Since every association has their own way of marking when a student is ready to move to the next belt AND every student progresses through learning differently, I can't say that there is any industry standard as to when students will get to black belt status. However, I can tell you my opinion: reaching each belt status is a milestone, one that requires work and dedication. Showing up on time to class is KEY, as if you are continually late you will miss instruction. Attending class more than once per week is critical, too. No one perfects a skill by practicing only 45 minutes once per week. If you were playing a sport such as basketball, your coach would require on-time and regular attendance. I remember in school during basketball season, practice was mandatory DAILY. You simply will not move very quickly through the ranks of martial arts if you're not perfecting the skills outlined for each specific belt.
Two: some people consider martial arts a SPORT. Indeed, it does have many of the same fitness benefits a sport has, martial arts is much more of an art and even a science, with MUCH physics involved. First, you have to untrain the body and mind to predetermined ideas of what moves you should make in different situations, and then you have to retrain your body and mind to automatically react in the correct, self-defensive way. Retraining the body is much easier than retraining the mind. BUT, retraining the mind is critical, as you want your reaction to any potentially dangerous situation to be immediate. If a dangerous situation were to arise, you don't want to say, "Wait....let me think of the best move to get rid of you. Oh...yes...that's the one. Okay, now I'm ready." Instead, you simply want your body and mind to GO. There is a chance that MANY of us will be faced with dangerous situations in life that require immediate reaction: look at the ever increasing risk of victimization in the USA. Danger is everywhere, unfortunately. The SPORT aspect of martial arts may come in the competition and sparring portion of martial arts; but remember even competitions are opportunities to train the mind and body -- building the character of good sportsmanship.
Three: I am often asked why my students are going through motions instead of using the motions. The truth is that in order to be able to correctly USE these motions, you must first practice them without an opponent. If you listen closely to what your martial arts instructor is telling you, you will hear the physics behind each of the moves, the clear explanation as to what you would be doing that movement for and what you might be doing to the attacker if there was one. Again, this is all a part of training the body and mind. If your martial arts instructor is simply moving you through the motions without explaining to you when you'd be using them or what you're doing with your own body at the time -- or even HOW the motion of your body will create force, ask questions and find out more.
Four: I am also often asked why the children seem to be less controlled than the teens or adults in their movement. Please remember: they are children, and their bodies and minds are not fully developed. Naturally, they will not be as focused at a young age, but martial arts is proven through research to help train the mind to focus. Their movements are not as focused either: but truly, they are moving and imitating to the best of their ability, and this certainly counts. So, yes, children may not LOOK as though they are perfecting the martial art, especially at a young age, but the training is truly beginning.
Patience is a virtue, especially in martial arts. It's something our society has moved away from: we are the "I want it NOW" culture. Martial arts helps to instill this patience in people, as they have to work hard toward a goal that will not come immediately. It takes time and practice. The reward is incredible. What can be more incredible than knowing how to protect yourself and your family in dangerous situations AND learning focus, concentration, and patience. Empowerment.