Taiso is a conditioning system designed to prevent injury when practicing a martial art, specifically Japanese jujutsu. Done well, taiso teaches and trains proper biomechanics. It is also scalable for people at a variety of fitness levels and for people with disabilities.
The body must be conditioned to move properly and precisely to avoid injury and apply techniques at a high level. Of course, raw functional strength never hurts and tends to be a side effect of taiso.
Why jujutsu needs taiso
- to protect you against injury
- to recover from injury if you are injured in any facet of your life
- to train the right body alignment to generate power in all sorts of weird positions and smoothly switch methods of applying force
- to find solo exercises that keep you in shape with no bad habits if you con’t have a practice partner for a while
Now, to explain how taiso fulfills those roles.
I do jujutsu, a martial art that uses angle and position to gain advantage and control an attacker’s joints. The system strives to use the minimal amount of force necessary so that one may deal with larger opponents. As such, it really has no conditioning component that is intrinsic to the training. Let me make this clear: the aim is to be clever about how people’s bodies don’t work to defeat them.
Some martial arts (such as boxing) rely on very high levels of conditioning as part of their training. You will not find an out of shape boxer (nor will you find many using it when they are 70.) Take something like kung fu which is the generic name of several Chinese martial arts. Generally they have formal exercises called forms that are essentially extended solo drills. These contains lots of awkward movements, extremely low stances, and a variety of other things that make doing them well very difficult. A lot of the movements in the forms are just conditioning. Think of it as one-stop shopping.
Why does jujutsu need some sort of conditioning? First and foremost: to protect you against injury. Strong limbs get injured a lot less. Most of the techniques in the system do not require much power to do, but may require extremely high motor skills to receive. You cannot really learn a grappling system without experiencing it, so if you never receive a complete technique you will probably never quite own it no matter how hard you practice otherwise.
Also, a major part of grappling is getting the right body alignment to generate power in all sorts of weird positions as well as being able to smoothly switch methods of applying force. There just aren’t many good ways to train that. A correctly aimed conditioning program should make learning a system easier. Also, there have been times that I have not had a partner. Now, you can’t do jujutsu alone because you need to grapple with another person. All that happens is you get really bad habits that will get you thumped when you get back into training. So, in those times, I set about finding solo exercises that would aid me and make it so I would be in shape with no bad habits when I could find a practice partner.
Another reason is to recover from injury. I have an artificial hip. I found myself in the unenviable position of not merely being out of practice, but being handicapped. Taiso was perfect, being extremely scalable and low impact. I was able to start at the bare bones fairly soon after surgery and work up to sessions worthy of an extreme athlete. While I admit that I am special (so my mother didn’t lie after all!) in that most martial artists don’t have to contend with this issue, I really think that this alone would justify getting to know it. I have consistently had physical therapists compliment me on the excellence of my rehabilitation. I follow their guidelines to a ‘t’ but always try to put it in the framework outlined here.
By the way, I did taiso for years and didn’t think of putting more than a bit of it into my class workouts. I only canvassed for more bodies after I started a recovery program from hip surgery and wanted some company. It sure is easier to do it regularly if you have a few buddies there! I found out that what I thought was run of the mill was essentially unknown. Taiso has gotten such an enthusiastic reception all the way around, I figured I should write some of it down.