When Adam Bourne could not find a shop providing the equipment he needed for his martial arts pastime, he saw only one solution: to set up on his own. Now the Academy Shop Roma in Prati not only sells every item imaginable for martial arts enthusiasts, its also acting as a forum for promoters, trainers and fighters. One result of this is Bournes marketing of a world boxing title contender.
Theres a big martial arts community here but what was missing originally was a focal point, where people could get together and organise events, arrange training, help spread the word about new fighters and so on, he says.
For the New Zealander, it has been a long road to running his own business in Rome, literally kick-started by relentless bullying as a child growing up in New Dunedin 40 years ago. I had an English accent though people thought I was Australian, neither of which made me popular at school in New Zealand, he explains. Then at 14 I met an ex-army guy in his 20s. I told him about my troubles at school and he said he would train me. He was a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, with military training thrown in for good measure. Later I took out the school bully. I was shaking like a leaf but I was never bullied again; it tasted good, my life changed.
An interest in martial arts was born, which has since seen Bourne train in disciplines including Chinese kick-boxing, the Tibetan self-defence of Kateda and the Bruce Lee-inspired Jeet Kune Do.
Running parallel to this was a developing business sense, born of colourful experience after moving to London in 1983 to live with his father. This incorporated selling office equipment, managing a pizza restaurant, running a painting and decorating business, buying a pub in Suffolk one night when he was drunk and finally working as a plumber after he saw the size of a workers bill one day and realised he was in the wrong job.
During this time, he also continued to fight and to train others at the Bob Breen Academy in London, a major centre for martial arts.
Six years ago, Bourne had had enough of the United Kingdom, sold his flat and moved to Rome; his father practises as a psychiatrist here after moving to Italy 18 years ago. I spent the first few years here doing very little in terms of work, he recalls. I loved exploring Rome, drinking coffee, making a poor attempt to learn Italian. One thing that kept me off the streets was a passion for making lights. I would spend the winter weekends down in Sabaudia collecting wood on the beach and then I made them into lights.
Before too long though, he was also training in martial arts. The idea of starting a shop became obvious, given all the problems trying to get hold of equipment, he says. The more I spoke to people, the more I realised that opening the shop was a reasonable idea. So the Academy Shop Roma was founded.
The difficulty of dealing with the bureaucracy during the early days, especially in a language still being learned, was eased by Bournes business partnership with an Italian friend. The latter has now left to run his familys business.
Bourne has also forged strong links with the ex-pat community in the city, which has extended into work for the international schools. He designs and merchandises bags, T-shirts, sports clothing and other items for schools including St Georges, Ambrit and the New School. We began printing shirts and bags for them. This really kept us alive in the first year. Some schools also ordered sports equipment, from goalposts to hockey balls. Many international school teachers dont speak Italian and will probably only stay a few years so its a difficult task trying to find a sports shop that will have the things you need and where someone will deal in English.
Bourne is equally excited about a home-grown talent he has helped to develop over recent years. About 18 months ago, welterweight boxer Alessio Sakara tipped to fight soon for the world title called at the shop. I knew straight away he was a special fighter, he recalls. He is being talked of in big terms now. We started producing some of his merchandise like T-shirts because we could see his potential.
The agile boxer from Pomezia, south of Rome, whose fighting name is Legionarius, has already dispatched six opponents since turning professional in March last year.
So what about others out there, whether similarly dreaming of a successful fighting career or simply wanting to take the first steps in learning a martial art? Finding out how to get started can often be difficult, especially for ex-pats who may be relatively new to the city. There are hosts of different instructors here in Rome who speak English, and who are more than happy to have English-speaking students, says Bourne. Its a great way to get to know Italians and to meet some odd and interesting new people. There are also childrens classes, which is a great way for young newcomers to integrate with their Italian contemporaries. Im always happy to help put people in touch with schools and trainers.
Academy Shop Roma, Via Luigi Rizzo 105, tel. 0645425741.