If you walk into a Japanese karate dojo for the first time and hear people say “osu” or “oss” all the time but don’t know what it means, this post is for you. It covers the origin, meanings, and usage of this term.

The origin of “osu”

The word “osu”, “oss” or “oos” [prounced like oo-s] is widely used in Japanese karate dojos as well as other martial arts such as Brazilian Jujutsu, Aikido, mixed martial arts, and even boxing.

However, the origin of this word is not clear.

Some source claims that “osu” first appeared in the Japanese vocabulary in the early 20th century.

One certain thing is “osu” did not originate from Okinawa, the birthplace of karate because it is not even used in traditional Okinawan karate dojos over there these days.

Osu is also not used by the Japanese in their daily life outside martial art circles like the way martial artists use.

Below, let’s first look at the dictionary meaning of osu before examining some theories as to the origin of the word “osu”.

Osu in dictionary

Osu (押す [おす]) in the Japanese dictionary has the following possible meanings:

  • To push, to press: 押す.
  • To apply pressure from above, to press down: 押す, 圧す.
  • To stamp (e.g. a passport) to apply a seal: 押す, 捺す.
  • To press (someone for something), to urge, to compel, to influence: 押す.
  • To overwhelm, to overpower, to repress: 押す, 圧す.
  • To push (events along), to advance (a plan): 押す.
  • To do in spite of, to do even though, to force, to make sure: 押す.
  • To be pressed (for time): 押す.
  • To advance (troops), to attack: 押す.

The dictionary meaning of “osu” is generally in line with the intended meaning of “osu” used in Kyokushin karate dojos as discussed below.

“Onegaishimasu” theory

One theory is that “osu” is the short version of “onegaishimasu” (お願いします) which is a very polite, honorable, and formal greeting used every day by the Japanese people.

Onegaishimasu is used when you are making a request or asking someone for a favor. It is also used to say to your opponent before starting a game or before a challenge.

Onegaishimasu has many meanings including “please”, “please give me”, “do me this favor”, “if you please”, “please do your best”, “please teach me” or “with all due respect I beg you to do this favor for me”.

“Oshi Shinobu” theory

Another theory circulated in Kyokushin dojos is that the word “osu” is the short version of “Oshi Shinobu” (押し忍ぶ).

  • 押し means “to push”
  • 忍ぶ means “to endure”

“Oshi Shinobu” therefore means “to persevere while being pushed”.

“Osu” generally refers to the patience, determination, and perseverance attitude expected of martial artists.

Kyokushin emphasizes the importance of fostering “osu no seishin” or the “spirit of osu” in their training.

Osu is used in Kyokushin dojos on many occasions such as when greeting each other, acknowledging that you understand an instruction, agreeing with a point, showing respect, or giving a compliment.

Kyokushin karatekas also say ‘osu” to themselves to summon their own strength and fighting spirit as if to say “I can handle it”, “I’ve got this” or “Yes, I know I can do it”.

“Ohayo Gozaimasu” theory

Another theory proposed by a linguistic professor, Dr. Osamu Mizutani, is that “osu” originated from “ohayo gozaimasu” (おはようございます) meaning “good morning”.

Dr. Mizutani found that people responded differently to a simple “ohayo gozaimasu”.

Young male runners while jogging would respond with a more masculine shortened form “osu” which is more like “hey ya” in English.

However, other people who go about in their daily business would respond with a formal and polite “ohayo gozaimasu”.

Of all the above theories, I think Kyokushin’s “Oshi Shinobu” seems to be the most plausible.

Embracing “osu”

Okay, so we still don’t know the exact origin of the word “osu” but it was obviously created by some martial artists somewhere with specific meanings (see more below) in the martial art circles.

New words are created all the time.

For example, in 2021, words like “box-off”, “contactless”, “virtue signaling”, “defund”, “truthiness”, and “body-shame” were added to the Oxford English Dictionary for the first time.

It’s time we embrace “osu” with “osu no seishin” (the spirit of osu) and stop debating or ridiculing its usage.

It doesn’t matter that “osu” is not used in Okinawa, the birthplace of karate, “osu” is here to stay.

We just need to learn how to use it appropriately.

Using “osu” in your karate dojo

If you join a karate dojo and hear people say “osu” often, it means it’s safe to use it on almost all exchanges, for example:

  • Bowing when entering the dojo
  • Bowing when leaving the dojo
  • Greeting an instructor or another student
  • Questioning if others have understood or heard you
  • Acknowledging that you understand an instruction
  • Before and after a partnered drill
  • Before and after a sparring match
  • Acknowledging a good technique
  • Signaling that you are ready
  • Telling yourself that you’ve got this
  • Showing respect, gratitude, and humility, for example, when receiving a new belt after a grading or receiving your medal at a competition.

As you can see, osu is a very special all-encompassing word that has no English equivalent.

Osu is widely used in Japanese karate dojos but is generally not heard of in traditional Okinawan karate dojos.

If you walk into a dojo for the first time and hear people bow and greet each other with “onegaishimasu“, it means “osu” is likely not used there. In that case, “onegaishimasu” and “hai” will be used a lot.

If you try out another style where they don’t use “osu” there, it will take you some time to drop the “osu” habit.

If you are in Japan, please don’t use “osu” outside of your dojo, the martial art version of “osu” is not part of their daily language there and you don’t want to unintentionally offend anyone.

As you can see above, the dictionary meaning of “osu” is “to push”, “to press”, “to overwhelm”, “to advance” or “to attack”.

Needless to say, you don’t want to show respect to someone you just meet by saying “to push”, “to advance” or “to attack”.

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The History of Oss


Osu no Seishin – the Spirit of Osu

The meaning of osu

Japanese: The Spoken Language in Japanese Life by Osamu Mizutani

5 Ways to Use “Onegaishimasu” in Japan

Whether to Oss/Osu or Not Debate

The Difference Between “Kudasai” and “Onegaishimasu” in Japanese

New words list March 2021