//05// Say Yes to the Dojo

27 Apr

[currently watching] The Season Premiere of the Voice! If it’s a reality TV show about singing… I’ve watched it.


For me, Tuesdays are usually a good day. First of all, it’s not Monday. It’s one of my favorite days to recruit at work. It’s a good night for TV (although now that Idol has moved to Wednesdays it’s just not the same… but still a good night). And most of all, it’s the first day of the week that I teach my kids’ class at karate. I look forward to Tuesdays.

One thing that we have to teach the kids is that the dojo has certain rules. I’m not a very formal/serious person in everyday life. I’m pretty silly and easy-going. However, there is a certain amount of formality required at the dojo. It’s kind of nice having to act somewhat differently from how I would in other situations. Of course, the point is that your good manners in the dojo will become part of every day life and your identity as a martial artist.

When a black belt enters the dojo someone is supposed to yell “Chareyut!” (attention in Korean) and then everyone in the dojo bows toward the black belt. I’ve had my black belt for about 10 days now so I think people still say that with some special enthusiasm. It makes me feel bashful and amused at the same time. I’m not sure either of those are the right emotions. But the kids are very gung-ho about bowing. Whenever I ask them a question about things they should do when they enter the dojo they can tell me a hundred million reasons to bow. Bow at the door. Bow before coming on the mats. Bow when you leave the mats. Bow to the black belts. Bow to the instructors. Bow going out the door. Oh yeah, bow when you come in the door. Bow to Sensei. Bow when you’re coming on the mats even if you already came on the mats before. Bow if you think about coming off the mat. Bow if you see your instructor climbing a tree. I’m like, all right, enough with the bowing already. What else?!

I’m still happy that the kids can tell me about bowing because it is very important. It’s a sign of respect and the people you bow to have earned it. At my old dojo my sensei said that you should bow deeper if you’re the lower belt and keep your eyes on the floor. I keep that in mind. The kids know all about bowing but it’s one thing to know it and another thing to do it. We’re still working on that. Even I have to remind myself to bow bow bow especially on nights when all the black belts are in class. (It’s not like there’s 20… it’s more like 7. But still!)

Karate uses a special language and not just because we’re learning Japanese and Korean terminology. Yes is not the same in the dojo as it is at home. You don’t just say “yes” to mean that you agree. In the dojo you say “yes” to signify that you understand, you’re listening, you’re taking this all in and that all boils down to proving that you’re paying attention. You say “yes” to let the instructor know that you appreciate and respect the time and the effort they are putting into helping you become a stronger martial artist. It also keeps you engaged. I know I tend to get a little spacey in class. It’s not that I’m not thinking about the karate–I am– but sometimes I get caught up in my own thoughts about what I’m doing or watching for all my bad habits in the mirror. Having to say something—“Yes, sir!” or “Yes, Ma’am!”–reminds me about where I am and what I’m doing and what I should be watching. It helps keep me focused and it could work that way for everyone.

At my dojo we use “osu” which is a Japanese term. I had never heard of it before this dojo. Saying the word felt strange. I didn’t like to say it because it was so awkward to me. You say it like “OH-SSS” like a bark and then a snake hiss (because you usually say with some enthusiasm, usually loudly, at least that’s how I use it most of time). That sounds kind of crude. It’s a nicer word than that. But I felt funny using osu so I’d opt for the clunkier, longer “Yes, ma’am”, “Yes, sir”, “Yes, Sensei” and the like. Until one day the word just clicked with me. Osu! I just loved it. That’s literally how it happened. One day I was like, wow, I really like saying this word and I’m going to start using it forever. A switch flipped in my brain. Now I use it all the time. Now it really feels like I’m part of dojo when I yell Osu? at my kids and glare until they repeat it after me.

But where does osu come from? I did a quick google of “yes in japanese” and all the first results were “there is no word for yes in japanese.” Of course, that was strange to me because I thought osu meant yes. So I did a follow up search and I came up with this interesting essay.

There are plenty of times when you should not use “Osu!” toward other people. Those rules are pretty simple, but there are quite a few of them. To simplify things, �Osu� neither means “Yes� nor “I understand”, although sometimes it is used that way. �Hai� or �Onegaishimasu� deems more appropriate. You don’t use “Osu!” toward women, since women in Japan, being addressed by men, should be treated in a certain polite way. Not toward strangers also. “Osu!” is an in-group expression, so it is appropriate to use it toward your own group of friends, and inappropriate to use it toward those you have a more distant, polite relationship.

Okay, so that whole essay pretty much contradicted everything I thought I knew about the term. But it’s an interesting read. It said that osu could be a contraction for a couple of different expressions and that it is a masculine word and a word used during athletic activity. It said that the Japanese wouldn’t use the term with women or to answer a question. I said osu to my female sensei today answering a question. Huh.

I think this warrants more research. But I don’t have time for that tonight. In the end, the dojo rules matter the most. Like I said, there’s a different language in the dojo and it includes osu in the way our sensei has taught us to use it, a way that has most likely been handed down through generations. I like the history in the traditions of the dojo, I like being one of the people who is trusted to uphold those traditions and teach them to the next generation. I need to get tougher with my kids about bowing and saying “yes!” in the special dojo way. I want them to bring this knowledge that they need to respect and listen to people who want to teach them to every part of their lives.

Of course, it’s always awkward when you say osu! to the cashier when you go buy something after class. But maybe that’s just me….


2 Responses to “//05// Say Yes to the Dojo”

  1. stacy April 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    Personally, I always secretly believed saying “osu” in class was a way to maintain civility even when you’re frustrated.

    You’ve worked on the same kata (or a single move from a kata) for the hundredth time. Your Sensei has pointed out the same mistake for the hundredth time (like you haven’t honestly been trying to correct it that whole time). So, I think, saying “osu” says “yes, I’m listening” when what you really want to say is “WTF do you think I’m TRYING to DO?!”

    We don’t bow quite as often as you guys. (We don’t do the one when a black belt enters the room.) The one I feel is hardest to remember is the quick courtesy bow(s) you give to your partner before and after a drill. (Or you exchange with Sensei when acting as Uke (uki?) during a demonstration.)

    • rahrahkarate April 27, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

      You’re right, those courtesy bows are hard to remember. Sometimes I do them (mostly with upper ranks) and sometimes I don’t. I’m glad someone else uses osu!

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