View Full Version : osu

25th October 2002, 09:26
I've been reading this article... can anyone here who has trained/is training in Japan comment??

And how is it done/used in the dojo where you train (in Japan or in the west)

Andy Watson
25th October 2002, 11:42

My karate instructor and a number of other people I know have trained with Japanese karate instructors and none of them say "Osu". I noticed though that a couple of clubs who had developed from various teachers, mostly English, do say it. I guess the answer is in your attached article.

I trained in Japan in iaido and jodo only and it was certainly never used then.



Budoka 34
25th October 2002, 12:05
My understanding is, Osu is primarily said by Karateka and Judoka.
When I asked about osu on apricot web, a Japanese language learning site, I was told it was very old and that only budoka, as mentioned above, used it.

Common english translations: We struggle together, or We work as one.

I had a chat, on apricot, with a gentleman who claimed to be a Professor near Yokohama(sp?). He claimed it was from old Japanese and that it was used to describe male animals, especially if they worked together like horses or Oxen drawing a cart.

I don't know if this is true or not.

What do you think?


Andy Watson
25th October 2002, 12:22
Osu is indeed the Japanese for male animals but probably has no connection to the "osu" yelled in dojos.

I also heard (just the other night by sheer galactic coincidence) that it was short for "onegaishimasu" (I humbly request). This was heard by a kendo colleague who while training in Japan heard the lower grades yell at the teachers as they entered the dojo. The girls would say the whole "onegaishimasu" but with the guys it would gradually revert to the mumbling "ongaishmsu" and "0£"1su".

Anyone else know?

25th October 2002, 15:59
it is short for "osu no seishin"

commonly used in Kyokushin and all it's offshot styles
irregardless of what country you are in.

Steven Malanosk
25th October 2002, 18:13
Like the energizer rabbit, this conversation keeps going and going.....................how appropriate, being that Oss! Osu! OOOS! however you either correctly or questionably spell it, means keep on keeping on / push through "the pain" / persevere / Keep working together as a group as in my Marine Corps' Gung Ho. Or an expression of intestinal fortitude, as in OOORAH!

Also often used in greeting, as in Aloha!

As a salute when bowing, or as yes sir!, in reply to a command.

Some say, it is a way for those who would suppose themselves to be our superiors, to keep us brainwashed by having us constantly chanting the mantra of subservience.

Nyet! Being that the Sensei's word is law, by the consent of the governed, this is not so.


25th October 2002, 18:23
Once upon a time at one of Mr. Chinen's gasshuku events a group of men put together a Letterman's Top 10 list of 10 things NOT to say at gasshuku. One of the was "Ous this!"

Number 1 was "But that's not the way you taught it last year Sensei."

I wish I could remember the whole list it was pretty damn funny.

25th October 2002, 18:25
OK, here's the tale I've heard (from more than one source).

Osu is posibly a contraction of Ohio Goziamasu. In the olden days (being the turn of the 20th century and later when Japan was westernizing its military), in the army, when a sentry relieved another on duty, no mater what time of day, the greeting was Ohio Goziamasu. I have heard (no personal experience, sorry) that this is done yet today in some quarters, for instance, factory work during shift change.

The grunted greetings, often from hungover or otherwise impaired or disgruntled folks became Osu ...

Dunno. Makes a nice, quirky tale. And from my Army days, I do know that relieving someone else is not necessarily a time of joy an dlight chatter.

I am pretty sure, from several conversations I have with Japanese speakers and budo scholars, that Osu is not in general use in Japan nor is it regarded as being veyr polite. I have been told that the only people who use it are either soldiers or police, or college students trying to sound tough.

Another 2 yen's worth in the ring ...


25th October 2002, 19:47
This is interesting.

In my dojo, we don't say "osu" but "hai" instead. We also tend to greet one another with "onigaishumasu" and excuse ourselves with "shitsurei shumasu." We also finish our kata with "arigatou gosai mashita."

"Osu" is nowhere to be found.

25th October 2002, 19:56
Hello, All
I trained kyokushin in Japan for several years and probably heard about 1,000,000,000 osu. I got used to thinking of it as sort of an all-purpose macho salutation, sort of like "dude!" Accidentally gave you a groin shot? Dude! (sorry) You rode your bike through the typhoon to be here? Dude! (nice going) Sensei wants me to wear the Gundam suit? Dude! A clubby, chummy, ritualized informality, so to speak.

Ah, the good old days...
Josh Gepner

Budoka 34
25th October 2002, 20:11
I started out in a Kempo school. Our chief instructor was Kyokushinkai!
We said Osu to everything!:D
he used to tell us it was a respectful way to say,
"Yea whatever you say!":)


26th October 2002, 00:48

26th October 2002, 13:17
From the little I've heard it, it was mostly in kyokushin dojo. "Overused" is a term which fits.

In the near forty years of judo, Hai! is the most common, but it had a real use since it means YES or YES SIR/MA'AM. It was the response to being announced when your go was at hand in shiai, or when the teacher tells one to come forward and accept an award, promotion, a belt to go with it, etc. I agree with my friend above who also said hai was what he experienced. In judo or talking with another judoka, OSSSSu was simply a good bye or hello, particularly on the telephone, though I have heard it in response to being calle on occasion.

Osu, is more of a grunt, the "u" almost unheard, or never neard. It is used in judo dojo, but mostly when attempting to put up with the pain or frustration of not being able to get out of a body hold. Other sounds I've heard are "yosh, unshu," and a few others I can't write here, but were not Japanese by any means.

Using it for "yes sir" never really made sense, but neither does spelling it OSU. It almost always, if it comes out naturally is OSSS! The 'u' sound may be there, but is dropped off so quickly that it is almost unheard.

That's just my experience and it obviously has some meaning. There was a thread (a good one, btw) in the Lounge which had several people knowledgable of Japanese, but not only that, and the changes through the different usage histories of certain sounds that come out of one's mouth, especially when struggling. I've found even in other foreign countries what does come out isn't always the same, budo or otherwise.;)


26th October 2002, 17:34
If in a Dojo that Uses OSU it would
be appropriate to use it as well.
Obviously if it is not part of the tradition, then dont use it.
If Rob Redmond thinks it is not correct, then dont use it at his Dojo

here is a reference for a Kyokushin Point of view:

The Young Lions of Mas Oyama’s Kyokushin Karate Headquarters (1985)
by Necef Artan in cooperation with
Shihan Bobby Lowe, 8th dan, Kyokushin Karate Chief Instructor

The word "Osu" implies to push oneself to the limit of one's ability and to endure. In the Kyokushin school, it is a greeting, and can also be used to replace words such as "yes", “all right", "good", "I will do it" and "excuse me". In fact, according to my observations, a student is expected to never say "hai" to his seniors but to use "osu" instead.

According to Mr. Teritomo Yamazaki, who was the champion of the First All Japan Open Karate Tournament of Kyokushin Kaikan (1966), the word "osu" is "...of ten thousand meanings expressing the willingness to strive against all odds to preserve on the courteous road to physical, mental and spiritual strength...a communication of respect of one's senior and responsibility to one's juniors."

According to Mr. Cameron Quinn, a prominent Australian student of karate, who spent three months living with the uchi-deshi, "The word encompasses infinite variation of meanings. "Osu" at its simplest, means "perseverance under pressure", at its most profound, it assumes a Zen like spiritual ambiguity (everything and yet nothing), a plea to the soul itself to overcome the frailties of the human condition."

The single word expresses the philosophy of karate. A good student is expected to have "the spirit of Osu". This is the underlying force of tradition which affects the karate practitioner's execution of duties, physical training and human interaction.

If i visit a Judo dojo, or other dojo which do not use it,
then I use whatever tradition they may use. But if I am in a
Kyokushin, Ashihara, Enshin, World Oyama, Seido etc etc etc Dojo
then it is appropriate to respond with Osu.


Harry Cook
29th October 2002, 15:40
Schlatt in his excellent "Shotokan Karate Dictionary" (1996) refers to oss on page 148. He says it originated in the Japanese Naval School and is composed of two characters. The first one "osu" means to push or control and the second "Shinobu" means to bear, endure, suffer.
Harry Cook

5th November 2002, 01:25
Originally posted by Chuck.Gordon
Osu is posibly a contraction of Ohio Goziamasu.

Thats what I've heard as well.

Jeff Hamacher
5th November 2002, 07:21
as far as i understand it, Harry's explanation of the kanji used to write the term and it's aggregate meaning is as correct as anything i've come across.

the phenomenon whereby expressions such as ohayo gozaimasu or onegai shimasu get crushed into little phonetic packages that sound similar to osu doesn't imply that there is any relationship in meaning or use. the final syllable is common to all three expressions, and indeed a very common final syllable in standard polite verb conjugations. truncating common phrases like this is a habit formed by males who want to come off like tough guys. rest assured, though, that when addressing socially superior folks the expressions will often get a much more careful enunciation from the tough guys, too.

as i'm sure i mentioned in the other "osu" thread, the use of the term is apparently restricted to specific arts, styles, or groups that have adopted it. it's far more common to hear "hai!" as a response to a teacher's instruction in japanese martial arts. in some cases, teachers will tell their students to simply keep their trap shut. it's all keesu-bai-keesu.

8th November 2002, 22:46
Originally posted by Jeff Hamacher
It's far more common to hear "hai!" as a response to a teacher's instruction in japanese martial arts. in some cases, teachers will tell their students to simply keep their trap shut. it's all keesu-bai-keesu.

...or like you get at some clubs over here Stateside, instead of "ooooooooooooosssss" you get the "Haaii Sensaaaaaayyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!!" :rolleyes:

11th November 2002, 22:20
In the Dojo that I train at in Kyushu it is used as an affirmation that you have gotten into the proper stance or position commanded to you and that you are ready for the next part or move. I have also heard it as a greeting ( at different times of the day) by police officers in a police station. I take it to be a word that men use more so than women.

Jeff Hamacher
14th November 2002, 01:10

most of the cases you mention are the kinds of things i discussed upthread: what sounds like osu! is not the "karate greeting" which is the topic of this thread, but rather a contraction of onegai shimasu or ohayou gozaimasu. no matter what the actual term is, all usage in the world outside the dojo is "tough guy talk". in the situations you mention it certainly seems common enough, but it's far from universal.

as to the level of "politeness", well ... i wouldn't generally consider any of these various "osu!"'s especially formal. on the other hand, they are the expected etiquette for certain situations, so perhaps we can say that they are polite in their own context. still, i wouldn't wander up to my tea teacher or my school principal and greet them with osu!. it would seem silly and totally out-of-place.

Steve C
14th November 2002, 18:26
If you need to be told the meaning of the word, it isn't really a word - it's just a sound. A word's only useful if the person speaking and the person listening both understand. The confusion here suggests that, being mainly non-japanese-speakers, we don't understand.

So, instead, we attach our own meanings when we learn it in a class. It's not going to have the social context that it would in japan.

So, I guess there are three situations.

1. You're a japanese speaker and you use the word naturally.
2. You're not a japanese speaker and you use the word with a less-than-perfect understanding.
3. You're not a japanese speaker and you don't use the word.

A couple of club black belts at my club use 'Ooosss!' all the time, but they're both well up for doing all the japanese stuff - turning away from the class while tying your belt, etc. Neither of them understand any other japanese. The instructor and the other black belts don't bother.

At the end of the day - does it help you communicate more clearly by using it, or it just japanese fluff? Does it change the way you train, or just add a patina of oriental inscrutablility?

In a conversation with a kendo friend the other week, we got into a big discussion about english vs. japanese. His point was that there are japanese concepts that don't have good translations - zanshin was his particular example - and my point was that teachers and student communicate better in their native tongue.

I don't think Osu has a decent place outside Japan. If it has meaning for the Japanese, then that's cool - they'll use it right. In a dojo in Britain, or the US? It's not worth it. Say 'ready',' 'go', 'yes', 'begin', 'excuse me', 'hello', 'certainly' or 'dude!' - whatever's most appropriate.

Michael Bland
22nd November 2002, 07:46
The guy from 24fighting chickens is usually pretty right on in his views... but on the "Osu" issue, he is a bit off.

As people who live in Japan or have been in Japan can tell you, the use of "Osu" is common.

I don't think anyone knows exactly how it got started, but it was definitely popularized in modern Japanese culture through the widespread Kyokushin overuse of the word. Kyokushin karateka use Osu to mean just about anything. The "Dude" explanation fits pretty well there.

Ask any non-martial artist Japanese person in Japan about karate, and they will ask you about Kyokushin...like they are one in the same...

When I was an English teacher in Junior high... all the young boys would use the "Osu" greeting because they thought it was cool and macho... the image of the tough K1 fighter from Kyokushin in Japan.

As someone mentioned... "osu" (different kanji) can mean a male animal... I remember they even made up stupid greeting jokes:

Student 1: Osu
Student 2: Mesu (female animal)
Student 1: Kiss (sounds similar)
Student 2: Pantsu (underwear)

This was all the rage in junior high about 6-7 years ago.

Off of that tangent, when I was in Chito-Ryu in Ibaraki, Japan, my instructor told us that "Osu" (which was used!) was made up of two kanji characters: The first means "Push" and the second means "endure, pesevere". Kanji attached in image.

My Japanese Karate instructor said this has the combined meaning of pushing down your own personality and persevering to conform with the group.

Interesting to see that the Japanese interpretation of this meaning versus what non-Japanese think it means more in terms of "pushing your self beyond your limits etc" as in above posts.

Anyway, as I said - no way to know what is really right or how it really started, but the fact is that "osu" is used in Japanese society today, and is most often associated with a masculine & macho exclamation, affirmation, or greeting.