We use a lot of specialized jargon in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that often sounds silly to the uninitiated. Terms like shrimping, berimboling, whizzering, and anything that Eddie Bravo names are just the tip of the iceberg. However, there is one relatively ubiquitous word that is something of a puzzle even for grizzled BJJ practitioners: OSS. What does OSS mean exactly and how should you use it in BJJ?
What does OSS mean?
Let’s preface this by saying that we here at Jiu Jitsu Legacy recognize that language is inherently flexible. There is no central arbiter of words, deciding the eternal and unchanging definition and usage of a term.
Today, oss is generally used in one of four ways:
As an acknowledgement in the affirmative.
Q. “Do you understand?”
A. “Oss!” (yes)
As a salutation or valediction (expression of greeting or departure)
Used similarly to “hello” or “goodbye.”
As a word expressing respect, often accompanied by bowing.
It is relatively common within Gracie Barra schools (and many others) to end class by facing a picture of Carlos Gracie Jr., and collectively saying OSS while making a small bow towards it.
Ironically, to poke fun at those who use the word excessively.
If you train long enough you’ll meet someone who insists on using the word OSS at the end of everything they say even though they do not know what does OSS mean at all. Some folks find it hard to resist making fun of this behavior and adopt an ironic usage of the word OSS. In moderation this is fine – but don’t be a jerk!
Origins: Where does OSS come from?
There are several competing theories of the etymology of the word oss. The word’s Japanese origins can’t be disputed, but it is hard to pinpoint exactly what does OSS mean even in Japanese!
The Good Morning / Hey Theory
Dr. Mizutani Osamu, a language expert and linguistics professor at the University of Nagoya, theorized that this term is a contraction of the formal greeting “Ohayo gozaimasu.” This would make oss roughly equivalent to “hey” to ohayo gazaimasu’s “good morning.”
Another theory suggests that oss is a shortened version of Onegaishimasu which means “please take care of me” or “please have patience with me”. This is a commonly used word in Japan when asking for instructions and is essentially a polite way of saying ‘please.’
Kyokushin Karate “Combat Spirit” Theory
One theory that has significant traction within the Kyokushin Karate community is that oss is an abbreviation of the expression Osu no Seishin. This expression roughly translates to “combat spirit” or “not showing suffering,” and thus makes for a compelling explanation of oss’ prevalence within combat sports.
Yet another theory suggests that the phrase originated within the Japanese Naval Academy. In this theory, oss is an abbreviation of the expression Onegai Shimassu. Onegai shimassu doesn’t easily translate into English, but expresses a hope for positive future interactions with whomever you’re speaking with.
Using The Word ‘OSS’
Ultimately, the true origin of the word oss is uncertain and thus it is impossible to determine what it originally meant. However, language is not static and so we can say with a degree of certainty that the word does mean something today.
Precisely what does OSS mean is a variable thing- essentially each gym has its own dialect!
Using OSS the right way
Since it is so challenging to define oss, it is difficult to say how to use it correctly. If your coach wants everyone to say it at the end of class as a sign of respect, then this is the perfect time to use it! If everyone in your gym says oss before starting rolls, then you won’t be out of place using it yourself!
When Not To Say OSS
Traditionally, oss is a masculine term in Japan and is only used when talking to your peers. If you are greeting an older Japanese man, or any Japanese woman, you are probably best off not using the term.
Also, while it’s fine to adopt BJJ lingo in regular life, recognize that many people find the word’s usage outside of BJJ context to be somewhat cringy. Most people in BJJ have no good answer to the question “what does OSS mean” let alone people that do not even train. Don’t let that stop you if you love the word, however – just be wary of overuse!
How To Correctly Pronounce OSS
Oss, sometimes spelled osu, is pronounced as a hard “o” sound, followed by the non-voiced ‘s’ sound as in “hiss.”
Whether or not your gym uses OSS it is a fixture of BJJ lingo that is here to stay. If you’re just starting out, try to base your usage of the word on how your gym-mates are using it. Sometimes coaches will encourage or enforce its usage – they’re just using it as a term of respect. The answer to “what does OSS mean” might be different from gym to gym, but one thing is certain – OSS is a staple phrase of BJJ and it is here to stay.
At the end of the day, remember that the meaning of words is dictated by usage, so use the word how you mean it!