Just read an interesting question asking “What defines some one as a taiji master?”
Spent half a coffee reading the answers from various tai chi and internal martial arts peeps. Really interesting how it was mainly rhetoric from books they read about ‘smooth flow of qi’ and such without any explanation of what that meant.
Alternatively some elder martial artists answered along the lines of ‘when your peers refer to you that way.’ or ‘when they put you in a box they will call you master.’ which brings it from the fantastic martial context into the real world.
These two points of view (generalised obviously) both lack accuracy towards the question, while they both bring up excellent points. Without the cultural context of the original teachings, access to the teachings, translation, and understanding. There will never be any skills gained.
For the qi to move smoothly, or the body to be light yet heavy one has to understand what the terms mean. The more exactly and deeply you can understand them the more use they are in training. Smooth qi means well connected uninterrupted movement from the intention of the mind, through the linkages of the body and out into the world. No breaks like a stream. Example, not recoiling and continuing to move after a fajin is not smooth qi.
Culturally the term Shifu is most often used as martial teacher or martial master in English. This means a person who teaches martial arts skills. It does not denote they are anything else. They have skills certainly, but how deep are those skills? The words mean nothing in relationship to them. Only a label for the person who holds those skills. We always revere our elders and teachers and dead. This title is well worn by those veterans. Most certainly elder martial artists always have experience and treachery on their side and it is those young students using these titles anyway.
I prefer a middle path about the topic. The styles of martial arts are each gatherings of methods of training working towards a set of skills. A person who has learned all of those methods and has trained them all into a set of skills they can perform. These people have all the balanced requirements to master a style.
Having all the methods means you can continue your training in a balanced and wise way. Progressing over time towards deeper understanding. By this time these people have usually put in decades of training, students have began following them, and they tend to be called master by those students.
Every elder martial artist I have met has no use for titles or uniforms. Rituals, ranks, or belts. They are a part of styles of training, not the fruit it is meant to bear.
In chinese there is a saying “the flower that neve bloomed.” like a flower about to open and suddenly frozen by frost. Some martial artists remain attached to their titles and ranks, frozen for decades or even whole lifetimes.
Masters sorta don’t exist, but students make them.