Rei & Osu

They say Karate begins and ends with REI, which means “respect,” as well as “courtesy.” Karate students treat not only people with respect, but also such things as their school and uniforms. What this mean that we do not take these things for granted. The left radical in REI means “deity” while the right signifies “bounty.” In other words, REI is the spirit of giving thanks for bounty. It is appreciation of good fortune.

What would Karate practice be like without REI? Certainly, students would not learn as much, for listening attentively to the instructor and not taking out is an important part of REI. It would also be more dangerous, because cooperating to ensure a Karate class is safe is a part of REI. Without it, people would be free to disrupt class or cause unnecessary injury. In Karate, as in society, smooth interaction relies greatly on courtesy and respecting social conversation.

The way in which Karate student express respect most is by bowing. Student bow to the teacher before and after class. They also bow to each other before starting to work together in drill or sparring. Even before and after competition matches, which contestant try their hardest to win, they bow to express their mutual respect. After all, it takes courage and determination to enter and train for competition.

By showing REI during Karate class, student and teachers are saying they appreciate the opportunity to learn from each other. And by treating their classmate with courtesy and respect, student also recognize the hard work and discipline that everyone is devoting to Karate. By treating thing such as their schools and uniforms with respect, they make certain they do not take these things for granted. Remember, not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to learn Karate.

Apply the principles of REI to life outside of Karate class, and you have simple etiquette. Thanking guests for coming to your party is an indication the effort they made to attend. Proper table manner are an expression of your respect for your dining partners right to enjoy a pleasant meal without being offended.

As you become accustomed to expressing REI in Karate class, see if you can show similar attention to the etiquette of daily living. And never take good people, nor good things, for granted. That is the sprit of REI.


People who study Karate can often be heard saying the word OSU. Sometimes they will say it in a normal speaking voice, but just as often, they will loudly shout this word, which can substitute for “hello”, “good bye”, “yes”, “okay”, or “I understand.” No matter how or when it is said, however, OSU reaffirms one of the most important lessons of Karate.

The first character, O, means to push, and symbolizes one hundred percent effort. The second Character, SU, means to endure. Combined, OSU, is a pledge to do one’s very best and to endure. However, SU by itself can also mean “to be silent,” and the character is made up one of the radicals meaning “blade” and “heart.” The Japanese idea of endurance, therefore, encompasses being silent, even if your heart is cut with a blade.

It is very natural for people to seek positive reinforcement in return for their efforts. This is the very principal by which our society operates, after all. Professionals are paid for their work. Teachers reward hard-working students with high marks. Parents pay children compliments for their efforts.

But Karate is a discipline which involves a great deal of self-reflection, and self-reflection is more concern with irrefutable truths than with rewards. Unfortunately, there are some Karate students who pretend to work hard only when they believe their instructor is watching. These types of students devote more energy toward attracting their teacher’s attention than to learning Karate. In other words, their efforts are not “silent.”

What these students do not realize is that they are in class to learn Karate, not to impress the teacher. And how much they learn depends solely on how hard they work. If they give their best efforts only when the instructor is watching and are lazy the rest of the time, this will inevitably be reflected in their technique.

On the other hand, true Karate masters are usually humble and reserved. They realize their expertise in Karate and the amount of the effort they have devoted to it are irrefutable, independent of the recognition of others. After all, a flower blossoming deep in a secluded forest is no less beautiful than one growing in a garden where everyone can see. In fact many great Karate masters have spent time training on scheduled mountain in Japan, where they had to continually challenge themselves to work hard even though there was no one there to provide encouragement or reinforcement.

Each time you say OSU during Karate class, remember that is a pledge to work hard and to endure. If you can say it honestly and with pride each time, you can be confident you are doing well.