The Way of Oss!

Osman Jamil
Nidan Essay
December 19, 2009

(open as pdf)


I would like to thank my masters, Sensei Ty Aponte, Sensei Lynn Aponte, Sensei Mike Whitesides, Sensei Dave Turney, Sensei James Auger & Sensei Leo Shortle for all they have taught me. Thanks also to Bob & Irene Nunez who made this essay possible & my family for the support, motivation & understanding.


The subject matter of my paper is to define and describe the meaning of Oss!. I will define it through research and how it is used in the dojo. I will also give scenarios of how it applies within the martial arts and the way of life.

Literature Review

Because of the inconsistent origin of Oss!, there are a variety of ways to spell this word. It may be spelled: Osu, Oss, Osi, Os. All of these spellings refer to the same word. For the sake of consistency, I will use Oss! whenever I have written my opinion or my point of view. Otherwise, I will quote the article in the spelling of the way it has used the word. I would like to refer to this word with an exclamation point because it is pronounced with a loud, energetic, and forceful tone.

Osu is made of two word parts. “O” means “to push” with one hundred percent effort and “su” means “to endure”. Combining the two word parts together makes “osu” which is a pledge to do one‟s best and endure.i

According to Zen, Pen, and Sword, “Osu is a contraction of Osae (meaning “to press”) and shinobu (meaning “patience” or “steady spirit”). Therefore, Osu means to press on with patience and steady spirit.ii

There have been two proposals of where Osu! have originated from. “The first explanation comes from Dr. Mizutani Osamu, a linguistics professor at the University of Nagoya who is frequently published in the Japan Times, Japan‟s English language newspaper, as an expert in linguistics. He has written a book titled, Japanese: The Spoken Language in Japanese Life. He writes about how people greet each other. He writes that “Osu!” is probably a contraction of the more formal expression “Ohayo gozaimasu”, which means, “It is early”. The term is commonly used in Japan as a greeting, such as the greeting, “Good morning” is used in America.”

Misutani found “Ossu! Or “Oosu” to be a very tough, rough expression of masculinity used mainly between people engaged in athletic activities.”iii “Another explanation is the contraction of the two Kanji symbols used to write the term “Oshi Shinobu” in Japanese. “Oshi” means to press or to push. “Shinobu” means patience, steady spirit, or to endure.

In all, Dr. Mizatani, says “Osu means to persevere while pushing oneself to the absolute limits.”iv

According to Connecticut Kyokushin Karate, Osu means patience, respect, and appreciation. “Osu is a greeting and is used to replace words and phrases such as „yes, good, I will, and excuse me‟.”v

Oss was created in the Japanese Naval School and is ordinarily used for “I understand”, “sorry”, and greeting others. In karate, it means for what I am about to do or attempt, I will do the best I can, I will give one hundred percent.”vi

How It is Used?

“Students who study martial arts will sometimes say “osu” in a normal speaking voice, but just as often, they will loudly shout this word, which can substitute for „hello‟, „good-bye‟, „yes‟, „ok‟, or „I understand‟.”vii

Osu is what karate students say when they greet each other, depart from each other, attack each other, and indicate that they are ready to receive an attack…You are announcing to all present that you have brought your patient and steady spirit with you and that you are in the dojo to do your best.”viii

In the world of Karate, „Oss!‟ tells the Sensei his instructions were fully understood, and that the student will give one hundred percent effort to follow them. “It is also used in sparring (ippon kumite) to acknowledge that an attack is coming. Oss! expresses confidence and sympathy to the sparring partner in addition to respect.”ix

At the beginning of each tournament, when the participant is ready to present his/her kata, he/she will begin by showing respect to the judges and referees and using the term “Oss!” to begin his/her kata.

At the opening and closing of each class, the student responds “Oss!” to show respect to all who have studied and trained in karate before him. After that, “Oss!” is used to show respect to the instructor(s).

Before entering or leaving the training area, one would face the front of the dojo, bow and say the word “Oss!” simultaneously to show respect and honor for those who have trained before him/her.

When a student is training and his Sensei gives him constructive criticism, the student should reply “Oss!” to show that he respects and accepts what the Sensei is saying.

During self-defense practice, the paired students greet each other with a bow and a simultaneous “Oss!” to show respect for each other. They are also to make eye contact, as well.

Outside the martial arts, “Oss!” is used as a Japanese greeting such as the American “Good


Interpretation and Reflection

When “Oss!” is said at the beginning of a tournament before kata or sparring is performed, this is a mutual greeting between the judges and the students. The student is showing respect to the more experienced (the judges) and the more experienced (the judges) is showing respect to the student.

When the student responds “Oss!” at the opening and closing of each class, this reminds me to be appreciative and thankful for the opportunity to learn, to persevere, and to pass along his/her knowledge to a lower rank.

Oss!” is used to show respect to the Sensei(s). Students are like a newly planted seed. His instructor is like the much needed water. The effort the student puts into each technique is like the sunlight. In order for the plant to become a tree, the seed needs water and sunlight. Much appreciation and gratefulness is given to the water for the development of the seed just as much appreciation is given to the instructor for his knowledge and patience.

Before entering and exiting the training area, “Oss!” is said with a bow. This shows gratitude that I have somewhere to train. In meditation, we forget our outside thoughts and problems and focus on the technique, art, and skill of karate. As in meditation, in the training area we forget the outside world and focus our thoughts solely on the technique, art, and skill of karate. The training area is like a sacred domain or place to focus on our training.

A student is training and his Sensei gives him constructive criticism. The student replies “Oss!”. This helps open his mind to have absolute acceptance of new ideas and become, overall, a better person in life.  A student is training and his Sensei gives him instructions, it is appropriate for the student to respond “Oss!”. One must have confidence in their Sensei and themselves. Following directions is a way to show confidence in yourself and your Sensei that you are a team working together.

A student and his/her opponent are facing each other with a bow and a simultaneous “Oss!”. Both people, the student and his opponent, are learning from each other; with patience and confidence. The “Oss!” signifies the patience and the confidence.

If an entire culture is saying “push” or “press on” with “patience, steady spirit, and to endure” every time they greet someone, then this leads me to think that this culture is ambitious and driven. This ambitious and driven culture has created this ambitious and driven martial art, karate.


In all, “Oss!” means “to press on or push on with patience, steady spirit, or endurance”x. “Oss!”, to me, means truth and honor to oneself…to push myself to the best I can do and then to push myself a little bit further. “Oss!” also means, to me, an ongoing life long lesson of excelling beyond my current limit to the next level of skill. It teaches me to work harder than before and to carry this tradition for generations to come.

iThe Empty Hand

ii Zen, Pen, and Sword





vii The Empty Hand

viii Zen, Pen, Sword


x Zen, Pen, and Sword