Behind the name: Proteus BJJ

In this post, I discuss the meaning behind Proteus BJJ. I delve into symbolism, alchemy, psychology, and they all relate to jiu jitsu.

proteus

Proteus-Alciato
Proteus and the Sea

Proteus is a Greek god of the sea. In some texts, he is also a son of Poseidon, probably the most well-known of Greek sea-gods. I chose his name for this site because he represented adaptability. Like the sea itself, Proteus could take many different forms through his ability to shapeshift. The illustration for this post was inspired by Andrea Alciati’s woodcut of Proteus from 1531.

Adaptability and Water

Bruce Lee said it best when he used water to symbolize adaptability.

“Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee



Adaptability is crucial to all facets of life. Within the context of grappling, a grappler must be able to adapt to the circumstances at hand. Things won’t always go according to plan, so it is important to know to react. It is also the case that a single strategy may not work on everyone. Everyone has a different body type and approach to jiu jitsu. You need to adapt to both the changing dynamics within a roll and between different training partners.

On a physical level, a grappler’s skills should be diverse enough to handle any situation. Technical diversity doesn’t necessarily require having a large repertoire of techniques for every position. It can also mean having a deep enough understanding of a few techniques to apply to many different scenarios. Just like water taking the shape of its container, recognizing the need to use certain variations of a technique, or switching to a different technique altogether, will help you overcome your opponent.

On a mental level, a grappler should avoid fixating. While persistence can pay off, there are often times when holding onto a submission leads to a reversal. Through experience, one develops the sensitivity to know when to flow from one submission to another, and when to crash to get the tap. To train with an open mind is easier said than done.

One way that sometimes facilitate this is to train with restrictions. It is similar to looking for something you’ve misplaced, only to find it when you’ve stopped looking. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but by intentionally fixating, you start to realize what you miss when you’re unintentionally fixating. Try rolling with the armbar (or any other submission) as your only submission. You may start to notice many more potential openings for other attacks on your way to the target submission. With time, you will notice these openings when you roll without limitations. It becomes liberating to have your full arsenal back and you develop a deeper appreciation for its depth. Then try and roll with an empty mind, without any plan or preconceived notions. Alternating between goal-specific rolling, conditional rolling, and full rolling with different mindsets, gets the creative juices flowing and broadens perspective.

In the words of Master Rickson Gracie, “Flow with the go.”

Alchemy and Jiu Jitsu

In alchemy, the spiritual ancestor of chemistry, symbols represented different elements and processes used in the endeavour to create the elixir of life. The alchemical symbol for water is an inverted triangle, which serves as the basis of my logo. Through its representation of water, the inverted triangle expresses the need for adaptability in jiu jitsu and pays homage to Proteus’ dominion over the sea. Together with the remaining design elements, the logo also resembles the crossing lapels of a gi. The inverted triangle is also the position the legs are for the triangle choke from guard. For me, this choke is synonymous to Brazilian jiu jitsu because of its use of leverage to subdue an opponent, and Royce Gracie’s application of it in the early UFCs.

water triangle

Sankakujime-2

Like the art of Brazilian jiu jitsu, the triangle choke originated from judo, where it is known as sankaku-jime. The judoka, Tsunetane Oda, often credited for creating this technique, was a strong proponent of newaza, or ground work, in judo. His study of newaza greatly influenced the judo of the time, bringing an emphasis on ground work to complement the standing techniques.

Another famous judoka from that era was Mitsuyo Maeda, who helped develop Brazilian jiu jitsu by teaching judo to the Gracie family. The triangle also has its roots as a symbol of jiu jitsu through the Gracie family. To them, the three sides represented the mind, body, and spirit. For more on the Gracie triangle, check out this article by BJJEE.



Proteus also has a direct link to alchemy. Some alchemical texts associate Proteus with the anima mundi, or world soul. According to Plato, the anima mundi was the underlying connection between living things. One interpretation of the anima mundi is the collective unconscious. Coined by psychologist, Carl Jung, the collective unconscious represents the sum of human experiences, which connect us all, but is unreachable by the individual’s consciousness. To Jung, the ultimate goal was to reach individuation, a mental state where the unconscious mind is both understood and integrated with the conscious mind. Jung, a disciple of Sigmund Freud, was one of the first to introduce eastern philosophy to psychology and his idea of individuation parallels the notion of enlightenment, or nirvana.

Jiu jitsu is a collective unconscious. For someone who has never tried it, the movements are still there, just hidden. As we train, we connect to jiu jitsu and bring the concepts into our own consciousness. At the same time, we all give back to jiu jitsu by bringing our own unique expression of the art to the mats.