Ring of Honor was initially targeted at wrestling fans who had grown tired of the "sports entertainment" aspect of larger companies such as World Wrestling Entertainment. The primary way of doing this was the institution of the "Code of Honor", a set of rules that dictated how wrestlers were supposed to act. The Code of Honor was used so that Ring of Honor's matches would have a feel similar to Japanese professional wrestling. Initially, there were five "Laws of Honor" in the Code of Honor, which were mentioned at some point during every ROH home video release. It was considered a "moral requirement" to follow these rules. They were:
- You must shake hands before and after every match.
- No outside interference - no interfering in others' matches or having others interfere on your behalf.
- No sneak attacks
- No harming the officials.
- No purposefully disqualifying oneself; definitive winners by pinfall or submission were expected.
The Code of Honor, especially the first three rules, was used principally to help heels get over. The first rule was especially applicable to Christopher Daniels, who was pushed as the promotion's first major heel, who did not believe in the Code of Honor and refused to shake hands with anyone. The fourth and fifth rules were to emphasize ROH's finishes, the vast majority of which resulted in clean pins, submissions, or knockouts. On the rare occasion that a match did end with outside interference, a ref bump, or other traditional heel tactics, it was met with a much more visceral reaction from the fans than would be seen elsewhere in the wrestling world. In the early days of the promotion, it was even suggested that getting disqualified in a match may result in that wrestler never appearing in ROH again.
In early 2004, ROH's booker, Gabe Sapolsky, began to feel that the Code of Honor had run its course . Wrestlers were no longer required to follow the Code of Honor, allowing for more explosive and over-the-top match finishes, which were accepted at that point due to the stars the promotion had established and the fans it had won. The Code of Honor eventually re-appeared, diminished, as three rules:
- Shake hands before and after the match, if you have respect for your opponent.
- Keep the playing field level.
- Respect the officials.