It is said 'never judge a book by its' cover' and sometimes that is true, but more often than not, in my experience, I find the first impression is usually the correct impression.
There is a book on this written by Malcolm Gladwell called 'Blink' that explores this topic in depth and this is not the main point of this article.
The main point is in appearance, yes, appearance, which is the doorway of our perceptions, before any other faculties come into play to add to the impression we first experience the world through sight (at least the majority of us do, for the Blind it is usually sound and touch, and this actually gives them even more of an edge in first impressions).
The reason I bring this up is because most times I meet people that are supposedly 'Masters' who are often out of shape, which tells me they spend very little time actually training or working on themselves.
Does this mean they have no skills? Of course not, and some people are actually naturally bigger than others, so this is not necessarily a great indicator of the kind of shape a person is in, although in most cases this is true.
Sometimes another indicator is in watching these people give demonstrations, one can pick things up, either overt things or covert things, like Students trying to be polite and make their so-called 'Masters' look good or the 'Master' themselves performing a Kata that leaves something to be desired (to put it mildly).
Sometimes they perform superbly, but again, in most cases they are winded afterwards.
Sometimes we find these 'Masters' were once in superb shape, performing at pique levels, but then something happened, long strings of injuries that may or may not be related to their training.
This would indicate something is amiss with their training or the way they are training, perhaps with the way they were taught, which carries over to their Students and this is where the cycle of damage perpetuates itself.
Maybe their Teacher died of complicated health issues that may or may not have had to do with their training or lifestyle choices, and maybe, just maybe, that person did not actually care enough to pass on anything correctly, and maybe they did not know themselves, but were only interested in making a profit and/or making a name for themselves.
Sound familiar? This story is rampant throughout the Martial Arts world, and something everyone should be aware of.
There are many great Teachers, some of whom will not fit any preconceived notion of what a good Teacher should be or look like, others will fit in perfectly with the above and those should definitely be avoided.
If they do not have time to work on themselves and their Teaching has not promoted any significant increase in health or physical conditioning in their Students then it is best to turn around, walk out the door, and find something else... Regardless of what type of style it is (or is not).
The fruits of a person's abilities and their Teachings will be readily apparent at first 'blink' and may, or may not, be backed up by some official looking piece of paper, with or without some Traditional looking Kanji to make it pretty.