Disclaimer: Sorry, we’re going to say OSS! a lot.
“OSS”, we say it all the time. When coach imparts some hidden wisdom as to how you can better set up a body-kick, “OSS” – or as a welcome to your opponent for the next five minutes whilst rolling, slap hands, bump fists, “OSS”. We even use it when bearing witness to some kind of mastery on the mats. “
OSS” we say, albeit in a mystified voice, as we’re swept onto our backsides by the old and wise Judo player. But where has this expression come from? And why have we adapted such a phrase into our everyday martial arts vocabulary?
“OSS”, by today’s Western standards, has a whole bunch of applications. Arguably the most common of these is within the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community as a sign of respect – whether that be as a greeting, an acknowledgment or a seal of approval on the mats.
But, like anything borrowed from another culture, it has been adapted to suit the needs of those using it. You could say we’ve culturally appropriated “OSS” for ourselves.
Origins of “Oss”
Traditionally derived from the Japanese language, “OSS” is believed to have stemmed from two definitions. The first being as an abbreviation of “Onegai Shimasu”, a polite and correct form of request. “OSS” is often used in the traditional martial arts world as a way of saying “please”.
Okinawan karatekas may use the expression after bowing to their instructor as a way of saying, “Please begin to share your knowledge”. Either that or as a polite and non-threatening way to initiate a sparring session.
This definition of “OSS” is probably the least used application of the phrase in modern martial arts, but it’s easy to see how it has become one with the similar-sounding phrase “OSU”.
Oss vs. Osu
“OSU”, pronounced “OOSU” is an expression which most western martial artists refer to whilst on the mats. It is said to have derived as an abbreviation of “Oshi Shinobu” – which roughly translates into English as; “To endure under pressure”.
“OSU” delves deeper into the proverbial realm than the previous definition, and conjures up thoughts of martial traits such as perseverance, endurance, and reflection.
In The Book of Five Rings, the master sword fighter Miyamoto Musashi talks of how the Samurai would adopt “OSU” as a combat-mantra.
Before engagement, to prepare the mind and body for perseverance, the warrior would shout “OSU”. Not only as a mantra for himself but to warn his adversary that he will endure through the toughest trials of combat.
Secondly, during the melee, a warrior would cry “OSU” to summon strength to persevere through pain, or to keep the mind focussed on the task at hand. In victory, “OSU” would be used to assert the Samurai of his path and to acknowledge his hard work.
In defeat, the phrase reminds a warrior that he must reflect on the battle – to learn from his mistakes and persevere on his journey. As you’ve probably guessed now – the spirit of “OSU” is the one most channeled by fighters today.
21st Century adaptations of Oss & Osu
In the clip below you’ll hear ex-pro Kickboxer, UFC veteran and world-renowned striking coach Duane “Bang” Ludwig talking about why “OSU” plays a big part in maintaining a consistent attitude amongst his students. He also explains why he utilizes the mantra during his classes.
“OSU” is also a code that master of eight-limbs and professional kickboxer Kevin Ross lives by.
At the beginning of this short film, you’ll see the definition of “OSU” appear on the screen. What follows is a voiceover of Ross’s own words, a tale in which he expresses the spirit of “OSU”, and how it transported him from being an addict to the upper echelons of the shin-on-bone game.
Oss & Osu in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu culture
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu we know today has strong roots in the old-school Japanese Judo – with the godfathers of the gentle art not only being inspired by the techniques of the Japanese but by their language and Bushido lifestyle too.
The rise of “OSU” within the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community is believed to have stemmed from Grand Master Carlson Gracie who mastered the gentle art under the guidance of his father Grand Master Carlos Gracie and his uncle Grand Master Helio Gracie.
His father was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s first and most important link to Japan, having studied under the legendary Judoka Count Coma (Mitsuyo Maeda). It’s said Carlson adopted “OSU” as a sigh of respect. And as such an influential figure renowned for producing fierce pressure fighting champions, it should come as no surprise people looked towards him for direction and influence.
Further adaptations of Oss & Osu – breaking into the mainstream
As Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu spread, evolved and adapted throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, so did the language – and none-more-so than “OSU”.
Today there are probably players who could break down every minute detail of the octopus guard but not be able to tell you who Count Coma is. But, that’s fine, and they probably say “OSU” to kick-start their next roll. Is it okay? Now, we can’t answer that.
Rules/manners when using Oss & Osu in Japanese culture
Whilst us westerners probably wouldn’t think twice about letting out an “OSU” or two, it should be noted that “OSU” can be considered a very aggressive, male dominant and assertive phrase in Japanese culture.
If you’d rather not upset a few-folk, keep it under-wraps when talking to older males, somebody of higher rank or when talking to women. Just don’t be that guy.
Today in the western martial arts world, “OSU” and “OSS” are commonly used interchangeably, as a singular phrase with no differentiation between the two . We’ve adapted them as our own – moulded into something new.
Whether it’s a good thing or not, it isn’t for us to say. However, now you know the origin, maybe you’ll “OSU!” with a little more conviction. Especially if you’re out on the tournament tatami, or at the sweaty end of sparring when you push for that one last round. We know we will.
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