Taiso is a form of conditioning used in jujutsu, a Japanese martial art that requires proper and precise movement. Martial artists use taiso to avoid injury. It happens to be a great workout, too.
(Goshin) Taiso = Goshin (protective) tai (body) + so (hardening) is a generic Japanese term for conditioning. It can range from simply stretching to very serious conditioning. Essentially, it is whatever activity you do to help you get safely ready for some other activity. In Japan you can see old folks who go to the park every morning and stretch who do it. (Interestingly enough, it is also the word for gymnastics too.) The way I like to do it is on the severe side, as a mixture of bodyweight, dumbbell and two-partner exercises. Actually, this is extremely scalable, from rehab on to training extreme athletes. The severe end has a reputation as the ‘wickedest workout on two legs’, so yes, this can be extreme conditioning if you like.
The big concept here is that one should not train muscles but movements. Your body has no concept of muscles, just movements. Even if you have no intention of ever doing any martial arts training, taiso is a great workout and extremely portable. It doesn’t need much in the way of equipment. Of course, you can get snazzy looking dumbells, but machines, weird diets and such are not to be found here. You’ll move better, have more stamina and just feel good afterwards. It also is pretty quick and you only need train about half an hour a day with it. Throw in 20 – 30 minutes of cardiovascular training and you have a really great workout.
Another factor is how to push the limit. Going full tilt in a martial arts class is good training, but doing so on a regular basis courts injuries and overtraining issues. Taiso puts the extreme parts of the training in the conditioning, where it can be controlled and you can practice training as hard as you like, with minimal risk of injury. This is one of the most important tricks in being able to stay active at a higher level as you age or try to return after an injury, say.
Many martial arts will train you hard by means of sparring or other work. This has a couple of serious drawbacks. First off, given the chaotic nature of the training, it is very easy to get badly injured. One of the most common accounts of an injury runs along the lines of “we were just sparring when I tried hard to do an X as he tried Y then pop and that was that.” Generally, putting the extreme parts of the training separate from sparring lets you learn what your limits actually are. You should always be working well inside of them any time you need to use your art. (And I do beleive that requiring some athletic feat to carry the day will fail pretty reliably.)
Said differently, I like to train on the edge, but I’m smart enough about it to carefully monitor my failure modes. It’s safer and gives great results. Also, I emphasize training movements rather than muscles. The reason is that I think Pareto’s Principle holds, viz., 20% of the exercises give 80% of the benefit. Distilling this down to the 20% that I think is important gives the motions to be trained.
I don’t claim that on lick of this is original. If you have done sports for a while you’ll have seen all of these movements elsewhere. I just claim to have organized it in a way that compliments my training.