I'm now one month (15 classes) in and my body was able to handle switching to five classes a week with no injuries from fatigue. Yay! I've done 10 classes since my last post, so there's much to share.
I signed up for the tournament and not just for kata, but for sparring too. I was corrected in my assumption that me doing poorly could reflect negatively on the school—people judge schools on black belts, not newbies like me. Oops. I wasn't thinking clearly there. Good news in that I was taught my first kata two weeks ago and taught my second one last night. If I can build up my leg strength to do lower stances, I will feel good about competing with Taikyoku Gedan.
As for sparring, a couple students told me they both did tournaments only having received their gear the day before. So worst case, I can ask someone for a crash course the day of the tournament, if need be. I'm thankful, however, that some of our classes have incorporated sparring drills (not requiring equipment) to help us learn movement, distance, and timing.
Rather than list what I did for the past 10 classes, I'll instead discuss typically what's covered.
Warm-ups usually involve 10 laps of jogging with doing 10 of an exercise after each lap (pushups, situps, jumping jacks, burpees, lunges, dips and kicks, etc). For the open classes, the exercises have usually been our choice which makes sense as with multiple belt levels there is a wider variety in fitness level. Afterwards we stretch.
Next we typically do basics (strikes, kicks, blocks). After that we may do kata, self defense, sparring drills, or whatever else the instructor has in mind. Students up for a grading may be asked what they'd like the class to work on. And as we get closer to the tournament, we've been focusing more on our tournament katas and sparring preparation (exercises that don't require gear).
Notebook: I can't emphasise it enough to have a notebook and pen with you so you can take notes, if not during class, then immediately after. It really helps to write down what suggestions/corrections you were given, the names of new techniques, theory, names of participants (if you have a not-so-awesome memory like me), etc.
Focus on technique, not speed: For basics, when starting out it's important to separate the movement/stance from the strike/kick/block. Students tend to try to do too much, too soon, and move too quickly sacrificing their technique. I don't know when I will be ready for more, but for now, it's step, pause, block, step, pause, punch, etc.
Breathing: I found I was getting dizzy during kata practice and realized although I was breathing out fine, I wasn't breathing in deeply enough. Likewise, it's also important to breathe out when you punch/block.
Fatigue: If you're pushing your body hard (like not being in great shape attending 5 classes a week), be extra mindful when your body becomes fatigued as the chance of being injured can increase as muscles weaken. During one class, I was very mindful and careful when a knee started to feel a bit off. I ended up taking it easy on that leg (thankfully class was almost over) and elevated it when I got home and it was fine. By being careful, I avoided receiving an injury that could have impacted my ability to train.
Attending Gradings: Although my motivation to attend a grading last Saturday was to support two students I've worked with in class, I also learned a lot. Simply put, you cannot help but learn when you watch 20+ students perform the same techniques. Solid techniques and mistakes become much more obvious when you see many students at once. I was also thrilled to discover that a couple later katas have the same floor movements as the one I know.
I'm still enthusiastically obsessed with karate and am enjoying it tremendously. It's also wonderful meeting so many people I admire in classes and how giving many people are with their time, suggestions, and encouragement.
Last night I had the option to take a single weapons class and, although difficult to do so, I declined as I see more benefit building my foundation (basics and kata) before focusing on weapons. It was tough though (weapons training is fun) and I most likely won't get another chance until I earn a yellow belt.