by David Zwanetz – June 4, 2012 was a riveting day for the lineage of Crazy 88 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Master Technician Malcolm Vaughan became Crazy 88 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s second ever home-grown brown belt, and the Mounting Machine, Cathy Tran-Zwanetz, became Crazy 88’s second ever home-grown female purple belt.
Malcolm and Cathy both have competition credentials that are worthy of bold font on their BJJ resumes and both have made a second home and second family of Crazy 88 and its students. Poetically, Malcolm spent personal time assisting Cathy when she was a white belt, and Cathy now spends her Saturdays passing on her knowledge to countless female students in the women’s only class. It is no surprise to any current 88 students that these two dedicated practitioners, instructors, and mainstays have attained these rare ranks in the lineage. It is critical, however, to remember that during these benchmark moments, nothing good in life, and definitely the BJJ path for these two, comes easily.
A small glimpse into Malcolm and Cathy’s history with 88, while absolutely hilarious, helps to put the magnitude of their accomplishments into perspective.
In 2005 Malcolm Vaughan had an unidentified friend who trained “UFC,” was some sort of local no-gi grappling champion, and had self-proclaimed killer leg locks that he learned from Ken Shamrock YouTube videos. He “would break ankles,” Malcolm said. This unidentified man trained at some academy near Ft. Meade Middle School. Coincidentally, around this time, Malcolm was getting tired of his normal back, chest, bicep, routine at his local gym, “The Body Factory.” He had decided to try to “lean out” and was searching for a good cardiovascular workout. He accompanied his acquaintance, the leg-locker, to the academy near Meade Middle to check it out. Fortunately, for the competitors at Crazy 88, upon entering the Meade facility Malcolm was confronted with dirty mats and a strange hybrid of boxing and no-gi grappling. Malcolm left without training and decided to continue his weight loss on his own.
A few weeks later, Malcolm again ran into his UFC friend, this time at The Body Factory, who explained that he was there to check out a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, in a gi, taught by a very good competitor named Julius Park. Malcolm followed his friend to a 600 square foot aerobics room inside of The Body Factory where, through a glass door, he saw four men and one woman, in gi’s, in a class being led by Julius. While it was a small space, the mats were impeccable, the students were clearly learning something technical (happened to be deep-half guard that day), each person wore a neatly prepared uniform, and the instructor (Julius) was clearly in control of the environment. There was structure. This was more Malcolm’s speed. The cosmos aligned that day and Malcolm arranged to try out a class. Within two days, after being beaten to a pulp by Julius, who was 40 pounds lighter than Malcolm, and Mike Atkin, who was 25 years older than him, Malcolm was hooked and became the sixth paying student at Crazy 88 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
The story does not end there, however. Malcolm signed up on the condition that he not be forced to compete as he still had nightmares from a bad year of JV wrestling in high school. Fast forward four months – Malcolm decided to accompany the Crazy 6 to a NAGA in New Jersey to see what a grappling tournament was all about. This NAGA tournament is where Malcolm “the Technician” was born. Malcolm sat on the sidelines as he watched Julius go from coaching each student to fighting his own matches. For the first time he realized that the moves Julius taught had a practical effect and could and were actually being used to garner leverage, score points, and submit grown men. “I woke up to the fact that everything Julius taught he actually did for real,” Malcolm said. Malcolm went on four months later to compete in an in-house tournament at Mike Moses’ academy and win every single match. He did this time and time again over the years.
The Malcolm that we all know that somehow trains in his mind in his BMW has been with Crazy 88 since they were a 600 square foot facility in an aerobics room inside of a weight lifting gym. Malcolm and the other Crazy 6 would set up the mats for every class and clean them by hand at the end of each sweaty training session. Proverbially, Malcolm has progressed along with the training facility, which as we all know is now a staggering 15,000 square foot MMA complex. Malcolm has worked tirelessly through thick and thin to attain his goals in BJJ, and has been at it as long as many people work academically to obtain a Ph.D. Malcolm is a wonderful instructor, great dad and husband, fierce competitor, and suburb technician – and now you know that he is 100% home-grown Crazy 88 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Cathy Tran-Zwanetz began formally training at Crazy 88 in May 2008. However, for approximately one year before her first class, she was being used as an unwilling grappling partner by her husband David in the living room of our small townhome in Catonsville. “David was practicing triangles on me every day and trying to rear-naked choke me every time we cuddled for a year,” Cathy said. “I wanted nothing to do with him or BJJ and thought he was gross when he came home from class,” she said. In May of 2008, however, Cathy asked David what he would like for his birthday. This is when he laid it out: “I want you to train at Crazy 88 for 30 days, the free trial, and that is all I want and all that I will accept,” he said. Cathy was not at all happy with this and had no choice but to oblige. He still remembers her saying, “Fine, I will do it for 30 days to shut you up, but on the 31st day I’m quitting.” “We shall see,” David replied.
Cathy had already spent considerable time with the competition team in 2007-2008, as she often came out for meals and the like after David’s practices. She already knew that she loved the people in the adult program. Little did Cathy know there were a ton of adorable kids training during the early evening children’s classes. Little did David know that this was the key to the kingdom.
Cathy arrived an hour early for her first day of training, which happened to coincide with the children’s class, at that time taught by Ivey League MMA’s Danny Ives. Cathy saw children ranging from 4-8 doing take downs, passing guards, getting into the mount position, and even learning how to submit one another. Cathy loves children and was both fascinated and inspired by how well these kids could grapple and take instructions. Cathy took her first class that evening and “it was not so bad,” she said. She could immediately tell that if she were to continue training she would get into much better shape. Day after day during the thirty day free trial, in honor of her gift to David, Cathy came into 88 early to watch the children’s class. A few weeks into the month she was asked on a whim to assist in keeping some of the children focused and to help with any temper tantrums. This moment, similar to Malcolm seeing Julius coaching and submitting people at the same time, was when the BJJ fish hook was set.
Cathy loves to volunteer and she took on this new position in the children’s class with zeal and vigor. Being in the children’s class every day she was constantly exposed to a very repetitive series of moves. Pass, Mount, Ezekiel – Pass, Mount, Ezekiel – day after day – Pass, Mount Ezekiel. Cathy began training more intently in order to be able to serve as a proper role model for the kids. What did Cathy focus on?? Pass, Mount, Ezekiel! Anyone who really knows Cathy, or follows the competition circuit at Crazy 88, can appreciate how awesome this is because even four years later Cathy wins 90% of her matches with Pass, Mount, Ezekiel.
Just as Malcolm’s story is two-fold, so is Cathy’s. Even after she became a mainstay in the adult classes, she refused to compete. In fact, at the mere mention of a single match at the end of class against a teammate, which we called a match-of-the-day in those years, Cathy publically refused to walk out of the school and quit BJJ. Cathy’s tantrum literally caused a domestic marriage riff at home that evening, as David was mortified that Cathy would speak out in class. “We got into a huge fight about that match, don’t you remember,” Cathy said to David. However, over time Cathy continued to work with the kids, train with the adults, and watch the adults compete. As David jumped directly into competing, Cathy would always go to all the tournaments. Again, Cathy found a way to volunteer. She would routinely go to the tournaments’ management and volunteer to run the time in exchange for David’s free tournament admission. From her little spot at the judge’s table, Cathy watched months of tournaments and simply took it all in. One day, when she was good and ready, Cathy surprised us all by advising that she was “thinking of competing at the next NAGA.” “WHAT???” we all thought. “I remember trying to stay cool when she said that as not to make a big deal of it and scare her off,” David said. Cathy traveled to New Jersey, the same mats where Julius wow’d Malcolm, and won the entire division with a three consecutive matches of Pass, Mount, Ezekiel. The kids’ game plan has been in full effect to this very day. In 2011-12, Cathy won double gold at the Boston Open, gold in Miami, gold in Chicago, gold at a the Brasileiro, gold in at the European, Bronze at the Pan, and Bronze at the Abu Dhabi Trials in Canada. She won a majority of those matches with Pass, Mount, Ezekiel.
All joking aside, Malcolm Vaughan and Cathy Tran-Zwanetz are model students at Crazy 88 and both gems of human beings. Their stories illustrate that Julius Park has created an environment, Crazy 88 BJJ, where any person, and every person, can become the best they can be. Crazy 88 is a family and a lifestyle to Malcolm and Cathy, and BJJ has served to enrich their relationships with their spouses, siblings, children, and friends.
Massive congratulations to Malcolm and Cathy for a job well done and an enormous “THANK YOU” to Master Julius Park for creating the environment to allow them to do it!