What does “Oss” Mean?

Used all around the world in martial arts schools, the phrase “Oss!” is a signature greeting of combat sports. It’s particularly common to hear at Jiu Jitsu academies. Athletes use it to greet their seniors, while listening to their coach, or just to say hi and make their presence known on the mats.

From the beginning of my martial arts journey, the word Oss has always represented showing respect to my seniors and belts higher than me. Stepping onto the mats, bumping fists with my opponent, and acknowledging them with an Oss is how I start every rolling session in Jiu Jitsu.

But I realized I never truly asked myself the origins of the word. How did it come to be so commonly used? Let’s get into that, but first things first, I want to make sure you’re pronouncing it correctly.

How Do You Pronounce Oss?

This is a common question among beginners in BJJ. You might hear it pronounced as the traditional Oss (oh-ssss) or even Osu (oh-suuu).

This video with Shidoshi Ricardo Morganti has a textbook pronunciation of the word Oss at 25 seconds in:

The meaning of Oss

The Origin of the Word Oss

My research showed that the word Oss first appeared in the early 20th century. Imperial Japanese Navy officers would use it as a military greeting, but there are a lot of theories on how the word came about.

The most popular of these theories attributes the word to Kyokushin Karate schools in Japan that use the phrase “Osu no Seishin.”

In this phrase, the word “Osu” (now commonly pronounced as Oss) is a combination of two Japanese kanji: the verb “Osu” which means to push and “Shinobu” which means to endure.

When these two kanji are combined, they form a whole new word that means something along the lines of “combat spirit.” Pretty cool, right?

The Modern Day Meaning of Oss

Nowadays, the word Oss is used in martial arts for everything from greeting others to paying respect. I like to think of it as a sign of equality and respect between martial artists and fellow combatants. No ego on the mats.

This video does an excellent job explaining more about the background of the word Oss and its prevalence in today’s martial arts communities:

The Meaning of "OSS" (+ When You Should NEVER Say It)

While you’re most likely to hear Oss while training BJJ, the word is widely used in other martial arts like Judo and Karate. It’s also commonly spoken by MMA fighters, especially those with more of a traditional martial arts background.

The Use of Oss in MMA

Back in the early days of the UFC and Pride, fighters would come out carrying the pride of their dojo on their shoulders. The most symbolic moments for me were the times when George St-Pierre would step into the octagon wearing a gi. He is incredibly proud of his martial arts roots, and would always greet the world with an emphatic OSS!

The fighting spirit that the word Oss carries pays respect to the martial arts fighters practice. UFC legends like GSP, Anderson Silva, and Lyoto Machida are just some of the famous MMA fighters you’ve probably heard declaring Oss on a major fight card. 

How Should You Use the Word?

At the end of the day, Oss is an extremely versatile word in the modern day martial arts community. It feels like some people use it in every single sentence, while others don’t say it at all.

In my opinion, Oss is a classic and universal greeting that pays respect to the fundamentals of martial arts. Next time you’re starting a roll, give your opponent an Oss and remember the fighting spirit the phrase embodies.

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