It’s common for the BJJ world today to spam the word “Oss!” You hear it before starting class, when greeting another BJJ guy, or perhaps when you ran out of words to say. It’s often overused to the point that it becomes a generic term that could mean different things depending on the situation. So, what does oss mean in BJJ?
Is it just some random BJJ thing? To understand the real meaning of Oss, it is a good idea to take a closer look at its history and how it was used in Japan.
Tracing The Origins of Oss
Oss is believed to have originated from the Imperial Naval Academy during the 20th century. Just like the English word OK, which is an abbreviation for “Oll Korrect”, Oss is an abbreviation for the Japanese word Onegaishimasu. There’s no direct translation to English but you typically use it as “please”. It’s a term used if you are asking for a favor whether you are asking for directions in Nihongo or asking someone to hand you over something.
Oss is believed to be a military greeting at first before it was used in martial arts. Also, an alternate pronunciation of the word is Osu.
How did it become part of jiujitsu? To trace the origins of Oss and how it is used in BJJ, it’s important to also understand that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was brought by Mitsuyo Maeda from Japan. Mitsuyo Maeda also known as Conde Koma taught Carlos Gracie judo before his younger brother Helio Gracie founded Gracie Jiu-Jitsu or what we now call Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Even in modern Judo schools, it is still a practice for the instructor to bow to the shrine of Jigoro Kano by the Kamiza area and then to the students where the students say “Onegaishimasu”. By the end of the class, the student will then bow to the instructor and say “Domo Arigato Onegaishimasu”. This roughly translates as “thank you so much for teaching”.
It shows that the original meaning of Oss in Japan is based on gratitude to the instructor sharing the technique with his or her students.
How Oss transformed Through The Years
The meaning of Oss is quite far from what it was during the old days. The phrase has been used as a greeting or even as a “yes” that the technique shown in class has been understood. Oss is also used as a complement to a person’s performance. It is common to hear an instructor yell Oss after seeing his or her student perform a technique in class.
Oss in Other Martial Arts
It has also been adopted by other forms of martial arts aside from jiujitsu. In Karate, Oss is written as a two-character word. The first character means “to push” while the second roughly translates “to suffer”. It is meant to symbolize the need to persevere and to whether sufferings and difficulties when practicing the martial art.
George St. Pierre is one of those individuals who wore the headband with the word Oss in it. Proud of his Kyukoshin Karate background, George St. Pierre wears the headband in most of his fights during his active years in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It is also common to hear other MMA athletes mutter the word Oss before entering the octagon. You get the likes of Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva who are known to declare Oss during their high profile fights in the Octagon.
War Cry in BJJ
Carlson Gracie is said to be the person responsible for giving modern meaning to Oss in BJJ. It has been used as a war cry for Carlson Gracie’s style of smashing and aggressive jiujitsu. Among athletes that came from Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu included Wallid Ismail, Ricardo Arona, Murilo Bustamante, Ze Mario Sperry, and Amauri Bitetti to name a few. These athletes have been known to give the gentle art a different meaning with their aggressive and pressure-based style of jiujitsu.
Oss became a war cry for these athletes competing. And through the years, the meaning of Oss slowly transformed. It’s something that has been used not only to show respect but to even drive one person to persevere.
How Do You Use Oss?
Just how are you supposed to use the word? These days, you can consider Oss as a highly versatile and universal term understood not only by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners but also by people who practice other martial arts. Whether you are looking to roll or you are visiting a dojo in another country and you don’t understand the language, giving an Oss to your training partner might do the trick to fill in awkward moments or to compliment someone on his or her good technique.