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Topic: "O Sensei"
I have heard some Japanese martial arts students
address their teachers with "O Sensei,"
and also "Osu Sensei." Are the two forms
of address derived from the same source?
Actually the two terms are quite different. "O'Sensei"
means a venerable teacher while "Osu Sensei"
is an acknowledgment, such as, "Yes Sensei",
"I understand Sensei," "Okay Sensei",
"I get it Sensei," or "Hello Sensei."
With "O'Sensei" it is a common misconception
that the character for "O" is just the alternate
pronunciation for the character "Dai," as
in "Dai Sensei," which means "big Sensei."
But this is not the case. The character for "O"
(in O'Sensei) is another pronunciation for the character
meaning "Okina" which means "old man,"
or "venerable." An old Japanese dictionary
(gakken kanwa daijiten) says that it is a way of giving
respect to an older man. In Japan it is used to follow
a name, acting as a suffix. This is the same with
such terms "san" and "Sensei."
They follow a name.
In the west, however, most people do not say a name
followed by a suffix, but instead lead with it. Thus
we hear "Sensei" followed by a name and
the use of "O'Sensei." The term, however,
is rarely used. In the west it is most often associated
with the founder of aikido Morihei Ueshiba, but Ueshiba
actually copied it from his teacher (daito ryu) Sogaku
Osu is a somewhat universal term that is commonly
associated with many traditional dojos, especially
those in karate. It is a rather course sounding word
that is somewhat curt and almost abrasive to some
Japanese ears outside the martial arts and other situations.
The term is also sometimes used in the military as
well as in sports activities, but probably not be
used at home or in more formal occasions.
Tadashi Nakamura's book "Karate, Technique and
Spirit" explains that "Osu" is a contraction
of the phrase "Osu shinobu" and was used
in ancient times as a greeting and salutation meaning
patience. Thus, he suggests that it is an encouragement
to others to persevere.
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