Washington, Washington: Greg Jackson’s Reflections on Mount Vernon
(Watch this incredible video to learn more about America’s founding father.)
“I’m sitting on George Washington’s porch,” Greg Jackson says with more than a hint of incredulity. “This is priceless.” Touring Washington’s estate at Mount Vernon on the sanguine banks of the Potomac makes it easy to understand the awe in the legendary MMA trainer’s voice. Besides the impressive expanse that the first President’s plantation occupies, its diversity illustrates the arduous, yet simplistic lifestyle of the eighteenth century. Jackson wanders from the porch overlooking the fisheries past the slaughterhouse and carriage house to Washington’s massive garden, all the while ushered by the throngs of visitors that make it hard to stop even momentarily. Mount Vernon is the last place you’d expect an MMA trainer to be and, predictably, he goes unnoticed, despite wearing the only Tapout shirt in the crowd.
“The amazing thing to me is that [Washington] left all this to fight for what he believed in when he didn’t have to,” Jackson says. “He could have stayed right here and pretended it wasn’t happening. He was rich, but he still went through hell with his men because he believed so completely in his cause.” His cause was, of course, freedom. But it was the way he achieved it that Jackson draws lessons from and applies to his unique brand of mixed martial arts.
“Nothing could break him. He would lose, but not give up,” Jackson says. It’s a simple principle, but its application in MMA is priceless so he replicates it by raising the bar of mental toughness. One of his core philosophies is that the mind is a muscle that has to be exercised the same way as any other muscle-by taking it past its breaking point so it grows. Through his training he strives to make the breaking point of his fighters unreachable. But no matter how hard he makes it, training for a fight doesn’t compare to some of the tribulations the young Washington endured.
On October 31, 1753, a twenty-one year-old Washington (already a Major) was selected to give an ultimatum to French forces building settlements along the Ohio River to cease and desist in the name of the British King George. For seventy-eight days, he rode and walked through bitter cold and Indian attacks to get the message through and return safely in what would become a harrowing tale of bravery and persistence.
Sacrifice was the undertow in Washington’s raging sea of life. He knew the meaning of selfless service, which is the antithesis of today’s MMA. Ask anyone who’s been in the game long enough and they’ll tell you that fighting is a selfish thing that revolves around one person-you. It’s all about your training, your diet, your sleep, and your emotions. It’s an individual sport and to get to the pinnacle of it takes a support structure of coaches, training partners, psychotherapists, and sycophants that all have to be synchronized for a common goal.
On top of that is the challenge of egoism. Jackson’s band of brothers are a combination of locals, like Keith Jardine and Damacio Page, and out-of-towners like Georges St. Pierre and Rashad Evans, who live in New Mexico for a few months and then go home for a few. Keeping such a diverse crowd of alpha males from letting the contagion of narcissism creep in at the seams takes the patience of a saint, the crack of a whip, and the good judgment to know when to differentiate between the two.
“Washington’s genius was keeping his team together,” Jackson says. “He was a master at keeping everyone focused on the prize and reminding them that they were fighting for something bigger than themselves.”
Valley Forge is quite possibly the greatest historical example of this. In the winter of 1777, Washington kept his militia together through the most daunting challenge a field commander has ever had to face outside of combat. Freezing temperatures, inadequate supplies, incompetent generals, and a civilian population unwilling to help took the Continental Army to the brink of collapse while the British rested and recuperated in nearby Philadelphia.
“Greg has a unique bond with his fighters that allows them to trust him,” says Sityodtong founder and trainer Mark DellaGrotte. “His attention to subtle detail is incredible.”
But while the methods are similar, the stakes couldn’t be more different. George Washington was directly responsible for changing the course of human history. Nothing we do today will ever compare to his accomplishments, but that shouldn’t belittle our corner of the world that Jackson and his militia have been changing slowly. Whether its winning a war or an MMA fight, the tactics, techniques, and procedures for each are identical. Jackson’s genius has been keeping other trainers on their toes for years and forced other camps and the sport as a whole to evolve or get left behind.
History is Jackson’s tonic, so Washington’s tomb is his Holy Grail. “You have to really love a place to want to be buried there,” he says admiring the sarcophagus. “I don’t have a family plot of land or an estate that I want to be buried on, but I guess I feel the same connection to New Mexico.”
There are few places in the world that cause us to stop and reflect on our own lives. Almost always those places stir up ghosts from our formative years, like teenage angst at home, embarrassment and achievement at school, or spiritual questioning at church. So it’s significant when someone else’s home causes a man to stop and evaluate his own accomplishments.
But even George Washington’s porch is within cell phone coverage and the shrill of it ringing snaps Jackson back to the present. The time of a tactical genius is priceless.