Sumo wrestlers are compelling figures. There’s a lot going on with them, from their exciting hair situation to their distinctive loincloths to their sheer massiveness. And, of course, they can retract their testicles into their torsos to keep them safe.
James Bond creator Ian Fleming is widely credited with popularizing the idea that they could fully reabsorb their nuts, presenting it as fact in the 1964 novel You Only Live Twice. Bond watches a training exercise in which a bunch of Japanese ninjas smack each other in the balls with sticks and barely feel a thing. Later, he asks the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka, how they managed it.
In response, Tanaka tells him: “Now, you know that, in men, the testicles, which until puberty have been held inside the body, are released by a particular muscle and descend between the legs? […] The sumo wrestler will have been selected for his profession by the time of puberty. […] By assiduously massaging those parts, he is able, after much practice, to cause the testicles to re-enter the body up the inguinal canal down which they originally descended. […] Then, before a fight, he will bind up that part of the body most thoroughly to contain these vulnerable organs in their hiding place. Afterwards, in the bath, he will release them to hang normally.”
It’s quite an image, these giant sumo wrestlers giving their groins a bit of a rub and prompting their torsos to slurp their nuts back up, then relaxing in the tub post-bout and birthing a pair of dangly twins, their balls elegantly plopping back into place. Unfortunately, it’s fucking nonsense.
As much as anything else, drawing the balls back into the body would be of limited use in sumo — if you went into the dojo and hoofed your opponent in the testicles, you’d be disqualified. Discipline is incredibly important in sumo, both in terms of in-ring behavior and day-to-day life, with strict rules governing everything from wrestlers’ haircuts to forbidding them from driving cars. And so, they’re not going around walloping each other in the family jewels. Grabbing the vertical part of the loincloth, or mawashi, is strictly forbidden, let alone sinking a foot into the testes within it.
Is that kind of nut-withdrawal theoretically doable though?
Well, for starters, everyone’s balls partially retract all the time. The cremaster muscle controls the occasional involuntary rising and descending of the testicles — generally hangin’ pretty loose but clenching up tightly if it gets cold, or you’re really exerting yourself, or scared, or really enjoying yourself. However, despite this partial retraction, they’re still exposed enough to hurt like hell if kicked.
There have been medically documented examples of people with full control over the usually involuntary cremaster muscle, but they’ve tended to come hand-in-hand with things like “enormous hernias” and “undeveloped scrotums.”
There’s also a condition known as retractile testicle where one or both testicles will sometimes have to be manually pushed back down into the scrotum after retracting, due to getting stuck in the inguinal canal (where they were before descending during puberty). People with retractile testicles could theoretically push their testicles up into their groins, but they’re not any better protected up there than in the scrotum — they still kind of bulge out.
Meanwhile, clenching the pelvic floor muscle — i.e., a Kegel exercise — will raise the testicles very slightly for a brief moment, but not enough to provide any protection, and the idea of maintaining that clench during a fight is insane. The pelvic floor muscle is what you clench when holding in a fart — there’s no way on Earth that, if a fart was trying to come out of you, you could hold it in while getting punched and kicked repeatedly.
And so, as convinced as James Bond and his pals might be that sumo wrestlers can absorb their nuts at will, it’s simply not true. He might do a fine job of traveling the world shooting people, but the motherfucker doesn’t know shit about balls.