Do sumos really retract their testicles into their bodies?
The ancient martial art of sumo wrestling is cloaked in mystery and tradition, and visitors to Japan have many unanswered questions about the enigmatic wrestlers, the most common question being- can they really suck their balls inside their bodies? It`s a belief widely held in the West that sumo wrestlers, through years of dedication and practice, are able to retract their testes into their pelvis before a “basho”. This grain of wisdom was sagely handed down to me by a well-traveled uncle so it must be true, right? I decided to investigate further.
Apparently the idea became widely known thanks to the James Bond author Ian Fleming. In “You Only Live Twice” 007 finds himself in a sumo locker room and is informed that the wrestlers are “trained at an early age to suck their testicles back into their abdomen” so “the testicles are protected behind the pubis bone during a wrestling bout.”
But James Bond stories are not generally known for their realism, especially when it comes to medical science, unless surviving falls from helicopters, wrestling sharks or, indeed, living twice are the norm.
Not that it`s not medically impossible to draw your gonads into your body. The involuntary “cremaster” reflex (sounds like a cool horror movie title) causes the testes to retract into body when the inner thigh is stimulated or when genitals come into contact with cold water, for example while swimming (otherwise known as shrinkage!) There are also precedents in the animal kingdom. The male Kangaroo sucks his balls into his abdomen before battle. Probably advisable, as a kick in the nuts by a kangaroo would certainly bring tears to your eyes.
So it`s possible for marsupials, but humans? Well, the legend is partly true according to Dr Hilary Jones, (medical doctor and smarmy daytime television celebrity in the UK) who says on his website: “professional sumo wrestlers in Japan actually massage their testicles into their inguinal canal deliberately so they do not become injured during wrestling.” So there you have it- the big guys massage their balls in, rather than actually “sucking” them in by sheer willpower. But then again, Dr Hilary Jones is more likely to be a closet James Bond fan than an authority on sumo wrestlers, so he might not be the most reliable source.
Sumo expert Mike W, of the website sumotalk.com is skeptical. “I’ve never read about this practice in the several books in Japanese detailing all aspects of sumo that I’ve read” he said, also pointing out that the Japanese ain’t exactly shy about their bodies (as anyone who`s ever been to an onsen will testify.) “They’ll tell you if they’re constipated or enjoying regular bowel movements, they’ll comment on the zits on your face. I don’t think they’re as embarrassed as Westerners are when it comes to bodily functions. My point is, if they really did retract their stones, I think the Japanese books would have pointed this out as if it was a normal thing to do. They would probably even add a diagram.” Hmm, good point.
I guess the ultimate question is, why would they bother? There`s really no need to go to such extreme lengths to protect their nether regions- the average sumo match lasts less than ten seconds and the wrestlers` private parts are already well protected by their tightly bound “mawashi” jock-straps, not to mention several pounds of wobbling flab to cushion any blows. Besides which, hitting below the belt is strictly against the rules. It`s hard to embody the dignified “sumo spirit” while booting your opponent in the balls.
The only way to get a definite answer on this matter would be to hear it straight from the horses mouth, so unless any sumo wrestlers are reading this and care to comment, the truth will have to remain a mystery. I could head to one of the sumo stables and ask the big guys directly… but I ain’t got the balls.