Written by Andrew Darnell
All Yoshinkan aikidoka are familiar with “osu”. We say osu when we enter the dojo, to start class, when sensei shows us a technique, to thank our partner for training with us, when Hennessy sensei and Sheppard sensei correct us, and when we pour root beer for each other at parties. I have even used it when I get change at the local convenience store, which usually results in strange looks from the respective cashiers. I’ve also caught myself bowing and saying osu to my boss at work! But why do we say “osu” and what does it really mean?
In Japanese culture, osu is usually used by sports teams of high schools and universities and most Karate styles. At work, osu may be used as a lazy way of saying “ohayo gozaimasu” (good morning). Yoshinkan style Aikido is the only style of Aikido that is known to use osu.
From the original Chinese, “osu” is divided into two mam characters meaning “push” and “endure, persevere, put up with”. The two characters put together can be defined as meaning “to push ourselves to endure any hardship in training or in our daily lives.”
In ‘budo’ – it is used as a simple greeting or reply as an indication of your willingness to follow a particular sensei or style of training. So when sensei calls your name or helps you, respond with “osu” to let them know you understand that they are talking to you and helping you improve! We must always remember, that although we say “osu” a lot, the word should not lose feeling and remind us to always train as hard as possible. Osu must come from our hearts. Those who do not acknowledge sensei or your training partner with respect, may leave them with a feeling that perhaps you are not serious about your training.
Osu need not be said screaming at the top of our lungs, but let’s try to find in ourselves the spirit of Aikido and always do our best in our training and also in our daily lives. Kancho sensei always said “aiki soku seikatsu” or “Aikido is life”. So next time you walk into the dojo, out of respect’ for O-sensei, Hennessy sensei and Sheppard sensei, and all those who help improve us to be better people whether that be your training partner, a brother, sister, mother, father, uncle… say OSU! Aikido training does not end in the dojo. Extend your ai (love, harmony, balance) and ki (energy, life force) into your lives and share the spirit.
Good luck with your training!
Published in Aiki Budo Newsletter: January 1998