Sun Dragon Martial Arts and Self Defense, NFP


February 14, 2024

I try to tell new students (or the parents of new students) to always feel free to ask questions about the things we do in class and why we do them.  Part of it is because we really like the whole transparency thing and we want people to feel comfortable asking questions about things that feel strange or if certain things make them feel weird.  Especially if it's an icky kind of weird.  But another reason is that the study of karate is unlike most of the activities that we join in on, whether they're sports, hobbies, or pretty much anything else.  I mean, we put pajamas on before we work out, am I right?

Today, I want to focus on one little oddity of our practice, the use of the word "osu."  If you've come to a promotion or watched a class, you've heard it a lot.  If it's a kids' promotion, you've probably heard us complain that the kids aren't saying it enough.  If you speak Japanese and you're not familiar with karate culture, you probably don't know the term as this usage is pretty specific to karate and not even to the martial arts in general.  If you've been doing karate for a while, you find yourself saying it in all sorts of odd places.  It would slip out often back when I played tennis, though I tried to cover it up (Steve, did you ever catch me?).  I was at an Austin FC match last year and I said it when something good happened (unfortunately, like much of last year's season I didn't get to say it too often that night).  We've probably all said it to checkout people at the grocery.  

We use it all the time for a little bit of everything.  Walk into the dojo and you bow towards the shinzen and say "osu!"  Greeting another student?  Say Osu!  Understand the instructions your teacher gives you?  Say Osu!  Reentering the training floor after changing or going to the restroom?  Bow and say Osu!  Slightly confused but determined to try your best at whatever it is you're supposed to do next?  Say Osu! (and raise your hand and ask Sensei Graham what he's talking about).  It’s built into some of our formal curriculum exercises and it's woven throughout our practice.  So what's it mean?

You can look it up online and you'll find a number of different explanations.  In our tradition, we explain it as being a shortened form of two Japanese Kanji, "osu" and "shinobu," which we roughly translate as "to strive with patience."  Many of our brothers in the arts emphasize an "endurance through hardship" connotation to the phrase, which certainly applies, though they often use it in reference to extreme, hardcore training.  'Cause, you know, bros.  I like to think of it more in the sense of patience with one's self and patience with the process of learning.  

For kids, it's an especially important concept for a couple of reasons.  The big one is that they're trying to learn how to do some fairly sophisticated physical techniques and their instructors are pretty insistent that they practice and do things the right way.  Karate builds from simple foundations to complex expressions and so those early physical techniques are important, but it's always a lot more fun to learn something new than to practice something old, so the spirit of OSU is important.  But there's also a pace to advancing in Seido and you generally don't just zoom up the ranks.  And sometimes that spirit of OSU is important to a kid who really wants to be at their next rank so that they can learn the new things and move up to their next-next rank.  Patience with the process can be hard.

For adults, it's an especially important concept for a couple of reasons (see what I did there?  yes, that's right, it's important for everyone!).  It's probably been a while since we've learned something new when we start as adults and that whole learning thing is hard.  Not calling anyone an old dog, but you know what I mean.  So that whole OSU thing is very important.  We also have the same impatience and sometimes lack of self-awareness that the kids have and we might be ready to move up long before our instructors are ready to move us up.  So, yeah, OSU!  And a big, big reason it's important for adults is that we have to be patient with ourselves as we strive to learn this new thing.  Making mistakes is baked into the process and, as adults, we're just not often given the freedom to make mistakes.  And our bodies don't always cooperate and we wind up getting injuries and having to take care of ourselves, sometimes repeatedly and just when we were starting to get a nice groove going.  Again, OSU!

Strive with patience.  That's key for all of us in the dojo and it's one of the most exportable concepts that we have at Sun Dragon and in Seido--it works outside of the dojo as well as it does inside (and not just for creating awkward moments with cashiers).  It celebrates the long term over the short term, always encourages and gives room for growth, and emphasizes that you don't serve karate, karate serves you and it will do so at the pace that works for you.  It also has a little corollary idea that you need to show patience as you grow with your training partners and your dojo and as they grow with you.  So it's not all about you, it's a universalizable concept that you need to extend to all of us in your community.  

I hope that helps clear all that up!  OSU!!!