“Ain’t no rules on the street bro.”
How many times have I heard variations of this? Sometimes it is given as a justification for not learning from other arts that have different training or competitive rulesets. Perhaps more frequently it is used to justify not pressure testing what is being taught because it is ‘too deadly’ and breaks ‘the rules’ of other combative arts. In some instances, it is used to justify teaching tactics without context that in most circumstances would be considered illegal by law enforcement or a jury of your peers.
Those who believe that there are no rules ‘on the street’ may have experience of violence, but lack understanding. Often lack of understanding itself leads to repeated experience, unless that experience has been forced by professional obligations (as a law enforcement officer, as a paramedic or as a soldier for example). We repeat the lessons we do not learn. Not everyone learns from their mistakes.
There are always rules in violence. The problem is not appreciating that the rules of others may differ from your own. Too often people let their egos prevent them from walking away from unnecessary violence or even appear to solicit violence, believing if you will, that they are about to settle a dispute with a football game and that the off-side rule is in place, only to find that the person they have challenged (or whose challenge they have accepted or provoked) is playing rugby union and has friends that happy to form a scrum. Sometimes the other person intends to fence or has a baseball team.
Analogies aside, everyone has rules to which they adhere, whether these are conscious or unconscious. There are differences between neighbourhoods, cultures and countries as to what violent behaviours are socially acceptable, and there will always be individuals whose personal behaviours go to extremes far beyond the local norm, but every person has limits as to what they can and cannot do, or will or will not do (even under severe conditions), even if those only exist as protective measures to limit repercussions or consequences.
In many people’s personal rules maiming or killing are acceptable (or honourable) and sometimes, even when they are not, accidents and unintended consequences can lead to those consequences. In similar vein, no matter how irrational or unprovoked some acts may seem on first inspection, every act of violence has an explanatory history, even if that is also unconscious on the part of the perpetrator.
It is important to be aware that in all environments there will be people whose rules differ to your own and (when visiting other places) that the different baseline codes of behaviour in other areas may pose greater risks. This does not mean that you are in a ‘no rules’ environment or that others will not take action if they perceive you as breaking their rules. The concept of ‘no rules’ is a dangerous fiction that can result in both inappropriate training and behaviour.
In good training you have to have rules to prevent injury to yourself and your training partners. This means that there will always be compromises within your training (just as there are in the training of professional fighters, of law enforcement officers and of military personnel).
There are some things that you cannot accurately simulate or train in either dynamic or alive fashion. Therefore you have to ask the important question as to whether, if you are not really drilling or testing it, does it deserve to be in your training repertoire?
Such items also come under the question as to whether you (or a significant proportion of those you teach) are psychologically capable of doing them, or whether those things would be inhibited by individual behavioural rules. The same techniques often fall under the category of being actions that in most circumstances are not reasonable force and that would result in greater negative consequences than other effective and trainable actions.
Rules do not make you weak. Simple effective trainable (and proven) techniques can give you a wide range of appropriate responses along a force continuum. Having clearly defined parameters for avoiding and using force is a source of mental strength. Limiting what you train in many instances refines rather than restricts your repertoire and ability. Anyone who believes that Mike Tyson adhering to standard boxing rules is going to be less effective than the majority of ‘no-rules’ ‘street-fighters’ in unarmed combat is on a flight of fantasy.
If you want to prepare for either a combative sport competition or for self protection then you should devote time to understanding your own rule set. In the case of the latter it is the combination of understanding your true mental and physical capabilities and the moral and legal constraints and extremes to which you should adhere to avoid violence, successfully navigate it, and minimise the risk of repercussions in its aftermath.
There are always rules: the more you understand and consciously shape your own, the more effective you will be.