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 ready safely 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 the word for gymnastics too.)
I like to do it on the severe side, as a mixture of body-weight, dumbbell, and two-person/partner exercises. It is extremely scalable, from rehab 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 train movements, not muscles. Your body has no concept of muscles, just movements. Even if you never intend to do martial arts training, taiso is a great workout and extremely portable. It doesn’t need much in the way of equipment. You can get snazzy looking dumbbells, if you like, but you will not find machines, weird diets, or things of that sort here. You’ll move better, have more stamina, and feel good afterwards. It’s quick and you only need train about half an hour a day with taiso. Throw in 20-30 minutes of cardiovascular training and you have a great workout.
Pushing limits safely
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.
Many martial arts train you hard via sparring or other work. This has a couple of serious drawbacks. First, given the chaotic nature of the training it is 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.”
You should always work well inside of your limits any time you need to use your art. (And I believe that requiring some athletic feat to carry the day will fail pretty reliably.) Generally, separating the extreme parts of the training from sparring lets you learn your limits.
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–namely, 20% of the exercises give 80% of the benefit. Taiso uses that 20%.
I don’t claim that one 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 complements my training.