Within the world of Shotokan karate, the word “OSS” is no longer viewed in terms of its Japanese origins, but has developed into a universal greeting understood by practitioners across the globe. It is used in various situations not only for such basic every day greetings as “hello”, “goodbye”, and “glad to meet you”, but also to convey “thank you” and “ I understand”. To use “OSS” correctly, you must utter it from the lower abdomen with a properly executed bow, displaying respect, trust, and sincerity toward the person(s) to whom it is directed.
In Japanese, “OSS” is written using the Chinese characters 押忍, meaning “push” and “endure” respectively. The first character conveys a forward-looking attitude and fighting spirit, a willingness always to push forward, regardless of circumstances. The second character conveys the idea that, through perseverance, any obstacle or setback, no matter how formidable, can be overcome.
With youth comes the physical and mental strength to endure almost any hardship or challenge. Without daily training, however, these faculties will not develop. As expressed in the Japanese proverb, ‘A jewel will not sparkle unless polished”, talents cannot be perfected without efforts. The use of “OSS” as a greeting helps young people to remember this important lesson from day to day while also providing mutual encouragement to maintain the mental attitude that this lesson demands. I have heard that “OSS” was first used at Japan’s naval academy.
In Japan, there have been some misunderstandings concerning “OSS”, which have resulted in its use being banned in some places. I believe that this was because of some karate practitioners annoying others by repeatedly screaming, “OSS! OSS!” at tournaments and elsewhere.
“OSS” is not a word to be used casually or indiscriminately. I would like everyone who uses it to do so paying special attention to proper attitude, state of mind, and vocalization. With the chin drawn in and the back straight, “OSS” is said while bowing once. The motion, breathing, and vocalization involved contribute to the concentration of spirit and strength in the lower abdomen. Viewed in terms of the principles of Yin (negative, dark, feminine) and Yang (positive, bright, masculine), the breathing and vocalization employed in the use of “OSS” would be categorized as Yin.
Rather than do away with “OSS”, I would like to encourage the understanding of this word by educating others in the value of its meaning and the proper method in which it should be used.
(Selected from the book – “Karate Fighting Techniques by Soke Kanazawa” )