What Does “Oss” Mean? Know When To Use It And Why!

December 7, 2020

For people who just enrolled in or are thinking of starting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Karate, the term “oss” might sound familiar. One of the first words that you will hear coming into the world of BJJ or Karate will be “oss.” 

“Oss” has various meanings from showing respect, acknowledging, or greeting. “Oss” dates back to the early 20th century and is also often used when bowing before entering the dojo.

Although people may have heard or even used it, most of them are unaware of its meaning and its roots. Since oss is such a commonly used word in the world of martial arts, it is about time you learn about the word. So let’s start now, shall we?

How Do You Pronounce Oss?

This is a very common question amongst people, especially beginners in BJJ and Karate. You may have heard various types of pronunciations of this word, which can lead to confusion as to which one is the correct one.

Some people pronounce it as the Oss (oh-ssss), and some people pronounce it as Osu (oh-suu).

The traditional way of pronouncing it is the former one – oh-sss. However, the latter can be used as well.

What it is not pronounced as is “oosh” or “oos!”

Where Does Oss Come From?

How do you pronounce oss

There are various theories on where the word originated, but no one knows exactly where it came from. However, history books tell us that the word dates back to the early 20th century when it first appeared in the Officers Academy of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

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Let’s look at the different theories that go around talking about the origins of the word.

A language expert and linguistic professor of the University of Nagoya named Dr. Mizutani Osamu came up with a theory that says the term is a contraction of a more formal expression of “Ohaya gozaimasu,” which may be a polite way of saying ‘good morning.’

Another theory suggests it to be a shortened version of “Onegaishimasu,” which means ‘please have patience with me’ or ‘please take care of me.’ In Japan, the word is used commonly when politely saying ‘please.’ Or, in other cases, it is used when asking for instructions. 

One more theory claims it to be invented by the samurai of the Saga clan, Yamamoto Tsunetomo. In his book, he mentions that the young warriors of the Saga clan within the 18th and 19th centuries used to greet one another with “osu!” when traveling to school in the morning.

According to the Kyokushin Karate version, it is a contraction of two words, “Osu Shinobu.” Osu means to push, and Shinobu means to endure. In simpler terms, this theory states that Oss means to be determined and never give up – which is one of the core elements of Asian culture.

However, its real origin is considered an abbreviation of Onegai Shimasu, which is an invitation or request. So the word is mostly used when inviting a partner to begin training.

Nowadays, when the teacher bows to the students, the students reply with “Onegai shimasu,” which demonstrates that they are willing to participate and learn.

Fun fact: At the end of the lesson, the students bow to the teacher and say, “Domo Arigato Onegai Shimasu!” which translates into ‘Thank you very much for your teaching.’

So you can say that the root meaning of the word in Japan is just a demonstration of thankfulness for the instructor’s transfer of knowledge.

The term is also defined as a manifestation of ki energy (strength) in many words, so the word is also used to indicate that they are ready to fight.

What does Oss Mean?

Today, the word is used in various ways, ranging from paying respect to greeting people to acknowledging the understanding of the demonstrated techniques.

The most common use of the word is as an abbreviation of Onegai Shimasu, as mentioned above. But that does not mean it’s the only one.

There are various meanings and purposes of the word oss, but they are mostly used when people bow before entering the dojo. Other than this, in schools like Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet, they don’t bow, but oss is still said in respect.

So to answer the question of the meaning of the word: there is no one meaning. The meaning of the word will depend on your gym’s behavior and surroundings where you do martial arts.

But the common purposes of the words are for greeting, showing a sign of respect, as an acknowledgment, or complimenting.

When Should You Use Oss?

When should you use oss

To know exactly when to use the word, you need to take a look around your surroundings as gyms can vary in etiquette. The word is exceptionally versatile, and sometimes, it is even used in literally every single sentence in the world of martial arts.

It is not a big deal if you say it at the wrong time or even if you don’t say it since Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes are usually very relaxed, so you don’t need to worry about getting scolded or laughed at.

Here is a list of times when you can use the words:

When greeting someone

In many gyms, the word is used while greeting each other, and people also say it and bow before their professor at the beginning and the end of the class.

When responding to someone

Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners often use the word “oss” to acknowledge that they have understood the technique that is being taught by the instructor.

As a sign of respect or acknowledgment

Before stepping on to the mat or before starting a tournament, you can say the word “oss” as a sign of respect and show your referee that you are ready to begin.

When complimenting your opponent’s skills

You can say the word when you want to compliment someone based on their talent or skill during a competition when they perform flawlessly. You will notice people doing this as well.

When Shouldn’t You Use Oss?

When shouldn't you use oss

Now that you know when you should use the word “oss,” you should also know when you should not. Although BJJ classes are quite laid back compared to the traditional Japanese schools, and sure, you can get away with using the word, but there are still certain times when you should not, and you should be well aware of it.

Never say it to a Japanese person!

You might be wondering why you should avoid saying it to a Japanese person. After all, you just learned that it is used as a sign of respect and greeting.

Well, in Japanese culture, the term “oss” is used as an expression of assertiveness and masculinity. If you say it to a Japanese person, it may lead to many miscommunications. And if you are a female, avoiding the word ultimately would be a wise decision.

The only time you can say it to a Japanese person is if they are younger than you or are lower in rank than you. And you can also say it when they want you to say it.

Besides this, do not say it, or you may find yourself in trouble. Japanese culture is way more rigid, and so you need to be careful with your words. You don’t want to be in trouble, do you?

Another instance where you shouldn’t use oss is at the start or end of every sentence. Remember, don’t just say it if you see everyone else saying it. Learn about it and learn when and when not to use it!

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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