Text by Robert Li, Copyright 2019
Ikigai. Have you heard the term before? It’s a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” Essentially, it’s a reason to get up in the morning. There is a sense of purpose and a reason to enjoy life. If you take four elements – That which you love, That which you are good at, That which you can be paid for, and That which the world needs – and put them in a Venn diagram, your Ikigai is the intersection of all four. Someone told me that I found my Ikigai in Acro, and I believe she was right.
I came to the US from Taiwan when I was 11 months old and grew up in Huntingdon Valley before attending Drexel University, though I studied abroad in Berlin while working for the German government. I majored in International Area Studies with concentrations in Chinese and German, and minored in Business Administration and History.
After college, I was a professional party promoter and professional cheerleader for the Philadelphia Soul as well as the Philadelphia 76ers while becoming familiar with the point of sale industry. The combination of food and tech seemed like a perfect place. Food has always been a passion of mine, so it was great to work with staff, managers, and owners all across the country. Still, I was either working or on call from 10am to 3am every weekday and on call every other weekend. There were a lot of perks, including working from home and free food when clients insisted I eat, but I felt like a slave to my phone because I had to answer at all hours, no matter what. When I discovered Acro, something clicked. I wanted to do it all the time. I realized that the other aspects of Acro align with what I enjoy in life as well: travel, meeting amazing people, and potential for beautiful photography. At first, Acro was a hobby, but by the time my thoughts, actions, and even dreams involved Acro, I knew a life-changing decision was coming.
With the #ridetherob project, the timing was right. When I started Acro four years ago, I didn’t know what to wear. I figured others must have the same problem. Why not create something that could fill a need? The concept of creating a clothing line became more than a fleeting thought. As my passion for Acro grew into a full blown love affair, I knew I had to take actions instead of just thinking about it. My heart and mind shifted focus from my job to the possibilities of what I could do with Acro. The #ridetherob project was building a lot of momentum, and studios started approaching me to teach. With so many amazing opportunities knocking at my door, I needed to answer the call and see what adventures await. Here was a big step towards the unknown, comforted by the thought that I have a whole community of amazing people supporting me in this adventure.
I wanted to create quality apparel for active lifestyles, and I had no idea where to begin. The first step was to make my intentions known and to make the time for this endeavor. Leaving a stable job with steady income was necessary to see this through. I was a motivated and knowledge-thirsty sponge, soaking in every piece of information and detail. Then I started making moves and developing my brand and products. Active Elixir was born (www.active-elixir.com). It’s the “perfect solution for people of movement.” I would address issues people have with apparel in various movements and provide solutions for them. My focus would be on all the various niche markets, starting with which I was familiar – Acro. Now I am developing Pole Wear, Swimwear, and in the next year, Belly Dance Wear and Social Dance Wear. Items are designed with ideas I’ve had, recommendations from friends, or random inspirations, and once they were realized, I test the prototypes on people who are actively involved in the practice. I listen to what they want, gathered feedback on the piece, made changes, and try again until it’s perfect — functional, comfortable, well-made, and stylish. I offer a direct line to someone who can make the changes you’ve always wanted to see in apparel, especially for your practice. I just hope that when all is said and done, I don’t end up with an absurd amount of women’s clothing in my apartment; I want to give them happy homes. In the near future, I’m looking towards fashion shows and collaborating with yoga studios.
My other pet project is #Ridetherob. Funny enough, the idea for it came in the shower. I recently got into Acro, and I wanted to show people how much fun it can be. I didn’t know this little project would evolve into something more and inspire others to create challenges and personal goals beyond expectations. At first, it was to show the world what Acro was, and then it was to make people feel good and happy while creating a deeper connection between human beings. At least, that’s what I observed the first couple of years. Now I realize it shows that people can learn and do things they thought was impossible. I’m also working on adding a philanthropic element to this project as I collaborate with various charities and other events. My current count is 5,323 people I’ve lifted up on my Journey to 10,000. The heaviest person I lifted while on the ground was my former rugby teammate who is 360 lbs. The heaviest individual I lifted standing was 250 pounds and almost 7 ft tall. I’ve also lifted a family of 6 at the same time and did a Triple Cupie with 3 flyers standing on my hands.
The Philly Mag article was great.(https://www.phillymag.com/be-well-philly/2018/02/13/rob-li-lift-acro/) It was the first published article about the project. Being on Good Day Philadelphia and lifting the anchors as well as just about everyone in the Fox 29 office was also a lot of fun. When CBS3 asked me to come in, I lifted anyone that wanted to be part of the project, and it seemed to make everyone’s days seeing how happy they were. (https://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/video/4121404-local-acro-yoga-instructor-on-mission-to-lift-as-many-people-as-possible-to-spread-teaching/?fbclid=IwAR0sqCjL4QA5dneLLk4BaJO3qCCljjCwiYJeDAIBUSQOpWp0yTsD-1W57x4)
Growing up, I was quite chunky. I would eat everything in sight. Then I got into sports one summer. I lost about 20 pounds unintentionally and just have been active ever since. I played football, wrestled, ran track, fenced, did cheer, and played rugby. I coached Temple Co-Ed Cheer because the head coach wanted to bring back a co-ed stunt team and asked me to help out. It’s amazing seeing the cheerleaders progress in their skills season to season.
I am so thankful that I did cheer. I did not know that people tossing would be such a valuable life skill to have. Having a strong foundation in the fundamentals of standing Acro has helped me achieve a variety of skills. It also led me to teaching Acro. One of the people I lifted had her own yoga studio, and she insisted I teach an Acro workshop. I told her I wasn’t certified and have just been doing Acro for a couple of years, but she told me that the way I instructed her into her pose was evidence enough that I would be good at teaching. I taught my first class and really enjoyed it. Having about 20 years of cheer experience also helps out. Because of this foundation, I was able to learn skills in 20 minutes that people work on for a year or more.
Even though I have a strong personal practice, teaching people who are trying Acro for the first time has been really rewarding. Sometimes I find myself in random situations– I’ve been invited to a number of Bachelorette parties, and I would come in and lift everyone. One of my personal goals was to hit a Rewind, which is a dynamic cheer stunt in which the flyer essentially does a back tuck while the base tosses her in the air and then catches her feet as she comes out of the tuck. I was so thrilled that I even did a Happy Dance while holding the flyer in the skill. Unlocking new skills is such an amazing feeling, especially when you work for it. Some other stories include me lifting a flight attendant while 34,000 feet in the air. I’ve done Acro on top of bars at clubs and lounges. In the kitchen or counters of restaurants. At a few gentlemen’s clubs. On stage at a gentlemen’s club. On boats and yachts. On paddle boards. At hospitals. In offices. Every day is an adventure, and I’ll do Acro wherever. The pose depends on who is flying and what feels safe and what I call concrete-ready.
Acro has even led me to perform and compete in one of the country’s largest competitions of this kind. When I went to see Diamond G a few years ago to support my friend, I saw some Acro in one of the performances. My thought process quickly went from I can do that, to I should do that, to I will do that. For a whole year, I was thinking about who should be on the team and what I should do. I recruited very talented acrobats, aerialists, pole dancers, and exotic dancers to compete for the coveted Diamond G-String title and $15,000. Despite being new to this, we came home with the title and prize money, and I met some amazing people in the process and have the utmost respect for anyone that puts on a show of this magnitude.
It was a challenging and exciting endeavor, much like starting an apparel company, and I’m learning more about the industry each day. Almost every night before bed and every morning when I wake up, I am talking to my contacts in Asia. There has been no shortage of delays or mistakes that needed to be addressed in a timely manner. My search for reliable manufacturers that can take my ideas and create quality products has led me down some interesting roads. For those who might be thinking about embarking on a similar project, do your research. Be prepared for a lot of things to go the way you don’t expect them to go, and learn how to overcome those challenges. Learn from your mistakes and apply that knowledge to future situations. Take lots of notes. Make sure you have money put aside because you will be spending more than you think. Believe in yourself. Take calculated risks and put yourself out there. Be kind to everyone. You never know who you’re going to meet who can help you in some way.
It also helps to listen, and I mean really listen to what women (and male consumers too!) have to say. I’ve learned so much about bras and boobs. It’s still very confusing though. There are many body types and preferences to consider. I’ve learned about various tests women try when deciding which pieces of apparel they purchase—squats, jumps, and inversions. Learning from women firsthand means that I can develop clothing that fits their needs directly. I’m also studying shopping habits and learning about marketing through social media. This is a lot for someone who basically posts twice a month on Instagram. Yes, I’m working on that.
The support from my friends and various Acro communities has been tremendous. I am so grateful for the amazing people that have helped me and believed in me in realizing my vision. It’s heart-warming to see how happy people are with my products. They tell me stories about how great they feel and the amount of compliments they’ve received from wearing my clothing line. It’s really rewarding to hear that after putting so much time, energy, and money into such a huge endeavor. It can definitely be difficult at times, but it’s been incredibly rewarding, and I’m excited to see what comes next.
About The Author: Robert Li grew up in Huntingdon Valley, PA and resides in Philadelphia. He majored in International Area Studies with concentrations in German and Chinese and Minors in Business Administration and History at Drexel University. He is the Founder of Active Elixir, a clothing brand focused on creating solutions for people of movement through apparel. With his experience as a cheerleader for Drexel University, the Philadelphia Soul, and the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Cheer Coach for Temple University, he is also an AcroYoga instructor teaching at various studios in Philadelphia and Acro festivals across the country.
If you want to get in touch with Rob, you can find him on Instagram – @themojoshow and @activeelixir or email him: firstname.lastname@example.org.