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Tai chi catches on with Chinese entrepreneurs

China's billionaires and successful entrepreneurs are embracing tai chi, a homegrown gentle exercise or martial art characterized by rhythmic circular movements, to boost not just personal well-being but company profits, launch new products and services, and transform corporate cultures.

For instance, Guo Guangchang, president of Fosun Group, and Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, are among the prominent personalities championing the cause of tai chi.

Elite tai chi clubs comprising business-people are not uncommon in China these days. Well-known entrepreneurs in white silk garbs can be found going through the slow motions at private parks.

After practising it for over three decades, Ma has made tai chi part of Alibaba's organizational culture. Tai chi workshops are part of staff training.

In his 2009 "State of the Union" address, US President Barack Obama called tai chi one of the best aerobic exercises of the world.

For long, tai chi has been practised by senior citizens as a morning or evening ritual as it is believed to help practitioners to balance positive and negative inner energies. That philosophy is now being applied in business to boost profits.

"It is a nice trend that influential entrepreneurs are doing tai chi, since it plays a positive role in promoting inner peace," said Li Longxin, a Brazilian startup owner in Beijing.

"I also think that in terms of cultivating a good character, tai chi is better than activities like muay thai."

Ary S, a Russian public relations manager in Beijing, said: "Tai chi is typical 'Eastern stuff ', and I'd like to learn it. I see foreign media love to write about Chinese CEOs performing tai chi with their employees."

In just a few years since its commercialization, tai chi has acquired the status of a management technique that can help better manage oneself, one's team and business, potentially boosting profits.

Besides, tai chi is seen as a potential revenue booster for the tourism industry. Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, explorers of foreign cultures and backpackers alike have been taking to it with gusto.

On Trip Advisor website, a US tourist shared his experience of an introductory tai chi session in Beijing. He wrote the teacher initiated the tourist group into tai chi slowly, and patiently explained its meaning and benefits. "We loved every minute. What a great experience."

Tai chi presents a contrast to other combat sports like kick-boxing, kung fu or muay thai that require speed and strength.

Although it was designed to be a self-defense skill, tai chi's modern practitioners feel it can help reduce stress and calm the mind.

The philosophy of balancing inner energies is similar to managing a company, Ma once said. He also said he developed leadership abilities from Taoism, management skills from Confucianism and inspiration to live a normal life from Buddhism. "And tai chi is what combines all separate parts together."

Fosun Group's Guo, another Chinese billionaire, is also passionate about tai chi. "It doesn't require large spaces or a whole set of equipment like golf. It is a more sustainable exercise. I used to be very irritable and constantly yelled at my team. We've that anger in our belly and we need to calm it down."

So, Guo applied tai chi in his work. "It doesn't teach you how to be fast but how to react faster. In investing, one can never always stay ahead of the market reaction. But tai chi made me react more spontaneously to change."

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