A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!" ~ Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (1988)
Rules are to grappling what turtles are to cosmology--namely, upon closer inspection they go all the way down (with no proverbial bottom in sight). When all goes well, the rules delimit (from the inside and from the outset) what falls within the scope of acceptability for a particular martial art or style. They tell us when and were certain actions are tolerated or prohibited (or whether these actions fall in the ineliminable gray zone in between). These rules (or lack thereof) even decide what it is we're doing in the first place--e.g., the difference between self-defense and assault and battery. In short, rules can and should make a difference!
To engage in a martial art is first and foremost to engage in an activity with a certain set of agreed up norms, rules, standard practices, expectations, etc. While the rules may explicitly state what can and cannot be done, they may also limit or curtail certain norms and patterns of behaviors in more tacit ways. However, while there is much uncertainty when it comes to the rules and etiquette of jiu jitsu--varying as they do from time to time, gym to gym, and organization to organization--one thing is clear: One must take it upon one's self to know which rules and norms apply to one's own circumstances or situation. If one is competing with a new organization or training at a new gym, one must be clear on the rules from the outset. As in the law, ignorance is no excuse. The onus is on you to know what is expected, what is permissible, what is tolerated but frowned upon, and what it outright forbidden or prohibited. Merely stating after the fact that you didn't know better is no excuse. The important thing is that you both could and should have known better.
While in an ideal world, different organizations would adopt a universal set of rules and best practices, we do don't find ourselves living in such an ideal world. Rather, in the imperfect world we inhabit, different organizations have their own preferred set of rules (all the way down). While there is much overlap--e.g., no biting or eye gouging--there is much less unanimity elsewhere--e.g., can lower belts even leg lock, bro?
So, I thought I would post some links to some of the international, national, and regional organizations to make it easier for me to start cataloging the similarities and differences between their respective rule sets in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned!