Aggressive Energy

multicolored illustration

Aggressive Energy (AE) is used in Five Element acupuncture (as developed and taught by JR Worsley).

It is both a test and a treatment. 

I used it for many years then became disillusioned with it: probably from arrogance.

However, when needed it is a magnificent tool.

The theory – as I understand it – is that certain zang-fu organs get blocked by AE, which you can very roughly translate as meaning toxic ‘garbage’ (very technical term, you wouldn’t understand).

Another way to understand this is that Qi normally, at least in health, is pure. But if blocking health, its polluted form must be allowed to escape or be drained or withdrawn.

Clear the garbage

This unclean form tends to be heating in effect, but this ‘heat’ is often not apparent until you test for it. It can however, obstruct success from otherwise perfectly good treatments.

Such treatments would normally work, but do so here imperfectly, either being only partly effective, or inexplicably reverting to the former symptom picture after a short time.

The zang-fu organ in question stops working properly and may even prevent health.

It reminds of the story of the man who had repeated episodes of tonsillitis for which his doctor prescribed antibiotics.

This went on for years until the man’s pharmacist became a friend and the patient didn’t need to see the doctor to get his prescription, just the pharmacist.

One day, the patient asked the pharmacist to look at his painful, swollen, inflamed tonsils and give his opinion. After looking carefully, the pharmacist went quiet.

‘So!’ demanded the man, ‘what do you think?’

‘Well’ said the pharmacist ‘Your tonsils are normally a force for good, protecting your immune system from further invasion by bugs. So that’s all good’. 

‘But in your case, I think they’ve gone over to the other side!’

Sometimes you can trace the problem to a ‘never well since’ event. This might be a former, possibly extreme illness or trauma. Sometimes it could have happened in the womb, or be inherited.

If the latter, you may need to do the AE test/treatment repeatedly until it clears.

How to check for Aggressive Energy

More than one zang-fu organ can be chosen and tested at a time. Probably doing too many at a time confuses the outcome. But usually you would choose the back-shu points of two zang organs related across the ko cycle. 

  1. Find the back shu points of the zang-fu organs to test.
  2. Shallowly insert a needle, vertically, and then insert between 4 and say 15 more very shallow check-needles at various distances from it, up to 5 cms radius.
  3. The needles should nearly flop over, being so shallowly inserted. Depth, one fen! Do not needle deeper because this may turn into other forms of acupuncture treatment.
  4. Wait. Possibly for 30 minutes, even more if you are pretty sure AE exists but is slow to manifest. (In very depleted patients, there may just not be enough Qi quickly to bring it to visibility. Alternatively it may be so deep it takes a long time emerge.)
  5. In other patients it doesn’t appear strongly the first time. Subsequent tests may bring it out more.
  6. The following image shows a mild manifestation.
A mild expression of Aggressive Energy.
Aggressive energy – mild manifestation

If you are viewing this page in a sunny or well-lit room you may not be able to see the darker red in the area of the central needles. Left for nearly an hour, this gradually faded.

Because it took so long to fade I tested for it at following treatments.

In this case, reddening at the check-needles disappeared within a few minutes but AE at the central needle and those close to it produced continuing erythema.

This picture was taken after removing the check-needles, around which no erythema continued but as you can see, even after 45 minutes, there was redness at the central points. 

Another AE?

In fact, as neither the patient nor I was pressed for time, we could wait.

In this case, and with the patient’s permission, I went into an adjacent office to treat a businesswoman who because of a severe migraine was struggling to complete an important commission on time.

Fortunately, and thanks to Master Tung-style acupuncture, her migraine disappeard within a few seconds, and she told me, next morning, that she’d slept well for the first time in many nights, and the pain had not reappeared.

Black Magic, she called it!

I’d never treated her before, but apparently she gets these migraines regularly – possibly another case for AE if she ever visits me for a proper consultation!

Back to our patient being tested for AE: notice that erythema was stronger on the patient’s left side, the side on which she had the worst problems (colitis). (I also tested her for AE at the back-shu point for the Large Intestine, but this produced no sign of AE.)

Expectations of Positive Test of Aggressive Energy

If AE appears then eventually fades, one would expect subsequent treatments to become more successful.

Of course, some patients have skin that always goes red around the base of an inserted needle – their skin is just very sensitive.

However, usually such skin reddening fades within minutes, whereas AE can last for many minutes, occasionally for an hour or more.

If so, because in clinic time limits may apply, you will just have to remove the needles and repeat next time.

Even if you have to remove needles before the AE fades, it still seems to help, but it’s best to wait until it fades completely and does not reappear at subsequent tests. Only then return to normal acupuncture treatment.

Having unlcleared aggressive energy may be like being held back by glue.
Pushing through glue

Consequences if AE is not treated

The theory suggests that, untreated, AE may spread to the next zang organ in the K’o cycle. So AE in the Heart-Fire may spread to the Lungs-Metal. (Usually it starts in a zang organ – so called because they ‘contain’ rather than flush: yang (fu) organs fill and empty daily so Qi seldom gets stuck in them, unless already entrenched in related zang – yin – organs.)

If in the Lungs-Metal it might spread to the Liver-Wood; from the Liver-Wood to the Spleen-Earth; from the Spleen-Earth to the Kidneys-Water; from the Kidneys-Water to the Heart-Fire.

Five Elements or Phases
Five Phase Diagram – Copyright Acupuncture Points

The further it extends round the K’o cycle, the more dangerous it becomes for the patient’s health and vitality, even life. What that means is that the depth of the disease ‘process’ goes progressively deeper, and is probably harder to cure.

If such spread is suspected, do the test also on the organs in question.

A Good theory!

The theory I learned, which I would cautiously endorse, is that if a patient does have aggressive energy and has been treated for his or her complaint ‘successfully’ (ie suppressively, see our page on Suppression), no matter how ‘minor’ the complaint, it can become deeply embedded. Repeated ‘suppressive’ treatment may worsen the AE or make it spread.

Such treatment could be with any form of medicine, even acupuncture, and certainly from Western medicine and its drugs/surgery.

(Yes, even acupuncture! It could be like flogging an exhausted horse – temporarily it may work harder but at the cost of even deeper tiredness, and hence susceptibility to disease.

As to Western medicine, we may all be grateful for its power to ‘remove’ or ‘hide’ the symptoms.

However, that means our body’s ‘best’ attempt at exteriorising or dissipating its problem is obstructed.

Again, read the page mentioned on Suppression.)

Symptoms associated with Aggressive Energy

As explained, its presence can obstruct improvement from otherwise good treatment.

So the patient feels better only for a short while after your (excellent) treatment, and you are at somewhat of a loss to explain this.

Other pointers include:

  • Extremes of mental behaviour
  • Patients  know something is wrong but aren’t sure what
  • The acupuncturist may sense that the patient isn’t really ‘alive’; seems inert
  • Symptoms (mental or physical) fluctuate erratically
  • Sometimes the patient has extreme dreams during sleep
  • Pulse quality may be hard to interpret. After clearing AE successfully, pulses often improve greatly or become much easier to diagnose.


Problems with Aggressive Energy treatment

  • Aggressive energy treatment does not directly treat the patient’s pain or problem. So they may walk out with the same problem they walked in with.
  • (Actually, I find that they usually feel better in some way after successful AE treatment but they may fail to report or admit this.) 
  • After you insert the needles, you wait.
  • And wait.
  • And wait … 
  • And … Because the treatment is on the patient’s back he or she cannot see what is going on! When, assuming erythema eventually appears, the patient probably still won’t feel anything much – they take your reassurances on trust! I suggest you (the acupuncturist) take a picture like the one above to show disbelievers.
  • Sometimes despite a long wait, no erythema appears!
  • Maybe you didn’t wait long enough!
  • Or maybe there’s no AE and your patient has just spent his hard-earned cash for the pleasure of lying on your couch for an hour. Was his money and your time wasted? He may think so, but you, the acupuncturist have reassured yourself that AE is not present, which can be important. (Let’s hope that any AE did appear in the time allowed, of course!) However, let’s face it, you may lose the patient if he or she is unconvinced. Maybe … show the patient this page, if you dare.
  • Actually, the benefits of clearing AE are so great that most patients, when they understand its importance, are keen for the test/treatment.
  • The AE test and treatment shows that you are caring and competent. (One more thought, at the foot of the page, especially for Master Tung practitioners.)

Other Pages to Read

Learn about more than just aggressive energy!
Further Reading


One more thought

There are a number of points on the back which Master Tung said should be ‘let’ = blood-let. (Letting is an important treatment in Master Tung acupuncture, and not just at points on the back.)

‘Letting’ means releasing a few drops of blood from the point in question. Doing so often eases pain elsewhere or makes its treatment easier.

Many of Master Tung’s back points for letting are close to or identical with back-shu points used in AE. Normally these Tung points are not ‘let’ unless very sore on pressure, whereas AE points may not be sore when pressed.

I harbour a suspicion that Aggressive Energy points could be let instead of waiting for erythema of AE to appear and then fade. Letting would be much faster**.

It seems to me that releasing some drops of blood is akin to producing erythema and then letting it fade. Also, the AE test is much less likely to alarm the patient or be sore, whereas many patients are chary of what they understand bloodletting to involve, and need more persuasion, especially at their first treatment.

Unfortunately, life being what it is, you can’t do both AE and letting on the same point at the same time.

And you never know what would have happened had you not done what you did!

**Please resist the temptation to ‘let’ the backs of your friends or family.  Hygiene is an important consideration and acupuncturists learn its importance before proceeding to learn or use the technique. Personally, I went on a course on phlebotomy as part of my training. Other people on that course were training to work as phlebotomists in the British National Health Service.

What, some ask, about cupping and guasha, both of which produce erythema? Possibly! Guasha may be like AE: not cupping. Guasha is sometimes painful and covers a large area, and cupping doesn’t seem to have the same effect as AE, though it’s very useful. But again, you can’t do both at the same time over the same area.

Anyway, this is just a suspicion! No sense exerting yourself over it.


Jonathan Brand colours

Stay in Touch!

No spam, only notifications about new articles and updates.

The latest books
Book a Consultation
Book Consultation
Acupuncture consultation

Book a Video consultation if you want to know more about your symptoms

Related Articles

photo of person showing silver-colored ring
Causes of disease

Knee Pain

Knee pain has five main causes. It’s certainly worth trying acupuncture before you resort to surgery!

Read More »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *