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  • 今はもう過去を振り返るな。ただ前進あるのみだ。
  • 入学試験に合格するにはただ練習あるのみだ。

I would like to ask if I can replace the bold part with "練習のみ" or "練習するのみ" / "前進のみ" or "前進するのみ" (and if the substitution changes the meaning), and a more puzzling question to me, what does "ある" mean and/or why "ある" is acceptable there?

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「前進{ぜんしん}あるのみ」

「練習{れんしゅう}あるのみ」

Replace the 「あるのみ」 part by the other words you mentioned and these phrases will lose the nice literary and/or old-fashioned 'feel' that was intended by the author/speaker. In other words, one should not try to make these phrases look or sound unnecessarily more conversational.

「[Noun] + あるのみ」

should be left alone as a common fixed expression used in mottoes and slogans. A strict grammar analysis would be somewhat fruitless because the expression already lacks the important particle 「が」 between the noun and 「あるのみ」 in the first place.

「ある」 here simply means "to be" or "to exist". This verb choice is completely acceptable and totally natural for the expression because what it literally means is:

"Let there only be [Noun]!"

which in turn means:

"The only thing to do is [Noun]!"

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