JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- It was five days before the 2011 U.S. All-Army Combatives Championship, and the defending heavyweight champion was in the hospital.

As medical staff worked for four days to identify and cure Aaron Isaiah Jackson's serious internal skin infection in his right arm, the 22-year-old's focus remained on the championship at Fort Hood, Texas.

Jackson was released on July 19 and the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Combatives Academy instructor made it for weigh-in the following day.

"I didn't train for a whole year just to give up," Jackson said.

After winning last year's Army Combatives heavyweight title, Jackson spent the next year preparing for the 2011 tournament. He fought through the three-day tournament and didn't let his re-injured right hand " his power hand " prevent him from repeating his success. Jackson defeated Minnesota National Guard's Braden Simont by a technical knockout in the final match of the tournament on July 23 to claim his second consecutive heavyweight title.

"I didn't expect to get out of the first day health-wise," he said.

But round after round, Jackson moved through the bracket of the tournament that tests close combat fighting skills. The tournament is open to active duty male and female Soldiers, National Guardsmen, Army Reservists and all other servicemembers attached or assigned to Army units.

The tournament was established at Fort Benning, Ga. in 2005. The Benning team won the first five years of the tournament, but Fort Hood won the right to host this year after its 2010 championship. Fort Hood repeated as overall post champion while JBLM finished fifth.

"Most of the guys are relatively inexperienced, but we did great," said Chris Davis, the Air Force member of the JBLM team. "Everybody was able to take coaching during the matches."

In his first All-Army Combatives appearance, Davis finished third in the 170-pound (middleweight) division, defeating his opponent by submission. Davis lost his third match in the tournament to the eventual middleweight champion, but the 29-year-old feels confident he knows how to train for next year's championship.

"I'm planning to win it next year," Davis said. "I know what I'm looking at now."

Jackson, too, just needed to see what combatives were all about to have the confidence to compete. During his basic training he lost a bout with his drill sergeant, a post tournament champion.

That was motivation enough to train.

"I am really competitive, so after he beat me I trained so hard I beat him," he said. "I figured if I could beat someone who won post, I was actually good at it."

Jackson then spent his time learning everything he could about the style of fighting that focuses on throws, takedowns and striking skills. He finished fourth in his first post tournament but his arm was ripped out of his socket. He thought that was it for him and competing.

Jackson's arm healed and he deployed to Iraq in 2009. He returned home a year later, trained for two weeks and went to his first Army Combative Championship where he won his first title.
The 6-foot-2 heavyweight fighter weighed in at 238-pounds last year.

"I was getting thrown all around the ring," Jackson said. "Those guys are huge."

Jackson went to this year's tourney with almost 30 more pounds of bulk. He also spent the year working on improving the weak areas of his fighting style. Both paid off for him.

"I feel like everybody should compete in something because it lets you know who you are," Jackson said. "The way you feel afterward, there's no word for it."

Davis, who was the lone Air Force representative on the JBLM team, hopes to spread the word on McChord Field to build up the predominantly Army team.

"We could only do better if we got everybody involved," Davis said.

The 2012 All-Army Combatives Championship will return to Fort Hood.