We know that the elements describe a circle creating all things, including the human body, the energies of one element feeding the next and so on in a never-ending cycle. In the body we usually see this as one over-arching circle linking one element to another in the familiar sequence of Wood-Fire-Earth-Metal-Water and back again. We know this sequence as the Sheng (Shen) cycle, the cycle of production. Within this cycle there is a further cycle which has its own sequence, that of mother to grandchild, the Ke (K’o) cycle, in the sequence of Wood-Earth-Water-Fire-Metal and back again.
Here, then, are two circles of energy within us. There is also a further circle, a smaller reflection of this five element circle, which we often forget about and therefore tend to be much less familiar with. This occurs in the order of the grouping of points we call in five element acupuncture command points, which forms one of the most important, if not the most important, group of points. Command points are on the extremities, between the elbows and fingers on the hand, and the knees and toes on the feet. They lie on the meridians of each of the 12 officials, in a specific order, one for the six yin officials and another for the six yang. Most, but not all, command points are what we call element points; this means that they have a specific relationship with one of the five elements. On each meridian there is, therefore, what is called a Wood point, a Fire point, an Earth point, a Metal point and a Water point. In addition to the element points, the command points include what is perhaps the most important point of all, those we call the source points (yuan points). Of all the command points it is the source point which offers the most central reinforcement for other treatment.
If we trace the sequence of the element points, we can see that in both yin and yang officials they follow the order of the elements, but with different starting and end points. If we move up from the extremities, all yin officials have a Wood point as their nail points and progress through the cycle of the elements to finish at a Water point at elbow and knee, whilst all the yang officials start with a Metal point and finish with an Earth point. The actual distribution of the points along the meridians between the element points differs slightly from meridian to meridian, with a few of what are called non-command points lying interspersed at differing intervals between the command points, depending on the meridian involved. This apparently random distribution of the non-command points is yet another proof of the unpredictability of anything to do with acupuncture, each meridian having a unique sequence of command and non-command points, as though deliberately designed to trip up poor students as they try to memorise them. Even now, I sometimes have to refer to my charts to remind myself of a particular order of points.
To see the line of the command points as ending at elbow and knee, with the line continuing along the meridian with non-command points as though we are tracing the meridian from its extremities up the body or from the body down to its extremities, runs counter to our view of the continuous circling of energy from element to element. Instead, it is appropriate to see a kind of connecting link drawing the energy flowing as far as the elbow and knee back round out again to the nail points and on up again following the sequence of the elements, to form a continuous cycle. Thus the Earth and Water points at elbow and knee can be considered as connecting up again with the next points along the cycle, the Metal and Wood points at fingertips and toes. We can therefore envisage all these element points as creating another unbroken circle of energy, a further but smaller circle of energy within the larger, overall circle formed by the meridian network as a whole.
There is something uniquely symbolic about this reflection of the five element circle on our limbs. No other grouping of points elsewhere on the body has such a similarly fundamental relationship to the five element circle in all its mutually supportive power, as one element follows the other in a mimicry of the larger productive five element circle. Even the Associated Effect Points (back shu points), which have a specific relationship to one element each, do not lie along the back in the five element sequence, being linked in a much weaker way with the points of the other elements, since the ones lying above and below them do not follow the five element order. This helps us understand the importance of the command points in connecting our energies to the cycle of the elements. When using a command point of one element we should therefore remember that we are, in effect, drawing to some extent upon energy flowing within a complete cycle of the elements.