Slow progress is still progress

“After you have practiced for a while, you will realize that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little. If your mind has ideas of progress, you may say, “Oh, this pace is terrible!” But actually it is not. When you get wet in a fog it is very difficult to dry yourself. So there is no need to worry about progress. It is like studying a foreign language; you cannot do it all of a sudden, but by repeating it over and over you will master it. This is the Soto way of practice. We can say either that we make progress little by little, or that we do not even expect to make progress. Just to be sincere and make our full effort in each moment is enough.” – Shunryu Suzuki, (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind)

It was two years between my belt tests in Aikido. Slow progress. That’s in part because of the usual stuff. Aikido is hard and takes a life time of practise. You’re never done. And I’m far from a natural. It’s graceful and beautiful and I’m more strong and into getting the job done. Jokingly in our house we call Aikido “whee, thump” but truth be told I’m more “thump” and less “whee.”

But it’s also because I don’t only do Aikido. When not injured I do CrossFit and I run. I ride my bike a lot. This winter I’m going to cross country ski. I’ve also been known to enjoy a hot yoga class or two. (I also end up taking time off due to work travel.)


I preach the gospel of moderation and avoiding specialization. Fitness has lots of different elements. Strength, balance, power, flexibility, endurance…
At times, especially with Aikido, I’ve wondered if I’ve been making a mistake thinking I could do it slowly. Most of the black belts at our dojo work very hard. It seems they’re there just about every night and few of them have other physical activities in their lives.

So my recent belt test was a success not just for me but also for the path of moderation and slow progress.

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9 thoughts on “Slow progress is still progress

  1. Dear Sam,

    Thank you for this post, it was so enjoyable for me to hear about your practice. I just finished reading The Art of Peace and so when I saw Aikido in your post I was intrigued!

    And I love the message of slow progress is still progress. So true and so overlooked (especially within ourselves)!

    Wishing you a great day. 🙂


  2. I’m very sceptical about the benefits of participating in many sports. I have no problem with people doing different things if that’s what they want to do. I’m just very sceptical about there being benefits to participating in different physical activities, as if this is the “way to be” for some ultimate purpose of some sort. I think you can get good only at what you do, and that generally, you’re not going to be very good at what you don’t do. So if you do Akido, soccer and cycling, you’ll get better at Akido, soccer and bicycling, although you won’t get as good at any of them had you participated in that one exclusively. As for your abilities in other physical ventures, you might be better at them than you would be if you didn’t exercise at all, but realtively speaking, you likely won’t be very good at what you don’t do (unless you’re a natural or they are very similar to something you’re already doing!). I think we all just have to figure out what’s best for us as individuals – and the factors in this mix are going to be a strange blend of the physical, medical, mental. emotional, social, and whatever else crawled out of some primordial soup and watever else continues to lurk about because of our personal history – all to create whoever we might be now, and perhaps who we want to become.

    1. I don’t disagree. I just like lots of different things and I’m prepared to settle for slower progress as a result.

      1. That’s cool, Sam. There are just so many people who seem to need to believe that their way of doing things is THE way to be. I find a lot of “cross-fitters” to be like that but you’ve never once before come across to me like that. That’s why I was surprised when you said: “I preach the gospel of moderation and avoiding specialization” and when you said that passing your belt test was a success not just for you “but for the path of moderation and slow progress”. This was i suppose more of a personal mission statement and a testament to the fact that progress is possible when taking this path. I get that now.

  3. Thank you – I needed that.
    Sometimes you start to feel disheartened which leads to hopelessness, which leads to grumpiness which leads to misery and anger. But reading things like this makes you feel a lot better, and gives you perspective and happiness.

  4. I think when one reaches a certain age (which Sam and I have both achieved), activities are less about “mastering” an activity and more about the fulfillment we get from doing it. Like her, I do other things in addition to Aikido (mainly cycling and running) because I enjoy them. If it takes a little longer to get to black belt (or maybe never) that’s okay, as long as I’m having fun and learning more.

  5. I recently read an article (unfortunately, I can’t find the link now) that placed fitness and the appearance of being fit (i.e. six-pack abs) along a continuum of sacrifice and opportunity cost. I really appreciate that article and the sentiment of this post. I know that if I focused more on Crossfit, I would get better at Crossfit. But I also enjoy running and yoga, I have a job and a family, and I also like cooking and eating. So to me, making slow progress on all of those fronts is more important that making a lot of progress in one area. Balance, balance, balance!

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