One of the most important practices in classical eskrima was dueling, without any form of protection. The matches were preceded by cock-fighting and could be held in any open space, sometimes in a specially constructed enclosure. Eskrimadors believe this tradition pre-dates the colonial period, pointing to similar practices of kickboxing matches in mainland Indochina as evidence. Spanish records tell of such duelling areas where cock-fights took place. The founders of most of the popular eskrima systems were famous duelists and legends circulate about how many opponents they killed.
In rural areas throughout the Philippines today, modern eskrima matches are still held in dueling arenas. In bigger cities, recreations of duels are sometimes held at parks by local eskrima training-halls. These demonstrations are not choreographed beforehand but neither are they full-contact competitions.
After decades of lobbying and overdue recognition, Arnis/Eskrima/Kali was proclaimed as the official National Martial Art and Sport of the Philippines in January 2010. There are 2 main types of Eskrima practiced as a sport. The oldest and most common system used internationally is that of the WEKAF (World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation). The more recent one is the Arnis Philippines (ARPI) system and was most prominently used during the 2005 Southeast Asian Games.
The WEKAF system works on a 10-point must system similar to boxing where participants spar with live sticks while wearing a long padded vest with skirt and sleeves and a helmet similar to Kendo headgear. Hitting below the thigh is prohibited. This format has sometimes been criticized because it emphasizes a heavy offense at the expense of defensive techniques sometimes with players raining blows on each other without defending, giving rise to the impression that combatants are merely hitting each other in a disorganized way. This has been tackled by introducing a 'four second rule', to prevent constant and unrealistic attacks, and judges are not to score the same strike if used more than twice in succession. fighters will be warned and points removed for continuing after 2 warnings, but still the fights can easily come down to an unrealistic attack from an unskilled fighter impressing the judges with many body hits after taking two or three clear, strong hits to the hands and head.
This is, to some, an antithesis to traditional training methods, where training in footwork and arm/weapon movements are intricate and precise and any part of an opponent's body is fair game. As a consequence, WEKAF tournaments may be seen as not promoting the original art. Moreover, participants have been known to suffer broken bones and injured tendons due to the fact that live sticks are used, so the older system is considered to be more hardcore and less safe. Another complaint about the WEKAF system is that it uses the 10-point must system which is more subjective depending on who is judging.
Favoritism among judges and players is a common complaint with this scoring system due to its subjectivity. Since the WEKAF system is more risky, it is preferred by many practitioners who want to test themselves. The WEKAF system is the most widely used format internationally.
The Arnis Philippines system uses foam-padded sticks about an inch in diameter with thin rattan cores roughly a centimeter in diameter. These sticks are meant to break before serious injury occurs. For protection, the same headgear used in the WEKAF system, and a large groin guard is required for males. Vests (optional for men, required for women), optional armguards, shinguards and leg wraps are used. Scoring is more similar to fencing where fighters are separated after solid clean hits are made (observed by multiple judges stationed at different positions to be able to observe if the hits were clean and unblocked and able to determine the strength of the strike by the loudness of the impact). Alternative ways to score are to disarm one's opponent or to force him to step outside the ring. The entire body from head to toe is fair game as targets, except for the back of the head which is less protected by the headgear. Stabs to the face are not allowed because the thin rattan core may penetrate the padding and slip through the grills of the headgear and go into the player's eye. Thrusts to the body score points but are harder to present to judges for scoring because they make less noise and it is difficult to determine impact. Punches, kicks and throws are not allowed, nor is prolonged clinching to prevent the opponent from striking (similar to Western Boxing) in order to keep the game moving and more interesting for the audience who may not appreciate the fine and practical aspects of grappling. Disarms must be performed quickly and cleanly in order to be counted. Because the legs are legal targets, in lighter weight divisions, complex evasion and deep lunges where players lie horizontal with the torso almost touching the floor to extend reach are often seen. The emphasis of the ARPI system is on safety for the players as it is applying to become a recognized Olympic sport like judo, karate, taekwondo, wrestling, boxing, and fencing. Even though padded sticks are used in the sport, players regularly retain large bruises that last for weeks and sometimes minor injuries to joints and because of the sheer amount of force generated by conditioned practitioners. Sometimes the stuffing commonly comes off from the harder hitting players and one cause of injury is when a player is struck by the exposed rattan core. Still, these are relatively minor as compared to injuries sustained when practitioners spar with live sticks. One major problem with the ARPHI system is that because the padded sticks with light rattan cores are used, they tend to flex and "lag", thus making the experience significantly different from using a live stick and in that sense, lessens the "realism" of this system. This is acceptable though as again, the emphasis is on safety. Like the sayaw (meaning "dance") in the WEKAF system, the ARPI system has a separate single and team choreographed Kata-like division called Anyo (Tagalog for 'forms'). Aside from the visual appeal, practical combative applications must be clearly seen so as to avoid looking like just majorettes in marching bands who just twirl batons and dance (a concept similar to the Floreio ("flowery") aspect in the Brazilian martial art capoeira and tricking which are more for show than practicality).
In another variation that simulates knife fights, competitors use false blades edged with lipstick to mark where an opponent has been struck. These matches are considered more similar to traditional duels than the WEKAF point-system.