Kanzen means perfect, complete or whole, and ki is spirit or life essence, reflecting the fact that karate is not just a fighting art, but that through serious training, the student can improve all aspects of their life, and help to make themselves a better or 'complete' person. This points to a deeper level of the martial arts, one that is strongly influenced by Japanese budo, or the Zen Buddhism of the Shaolin monks - both aspects that have had a profound effect to make karate what it is today.
Ki (chi in Chinese) is the same ki that goes into the word 'kiai' () - where the karate practitioner unites ('ai') all their spirit into an explosion of will-power, usually (but not always) with a shout that rises up from the centre of the body (the tanden), in order to help assure victory. Ki is not an easily translatable concept - it can be as simple as breath or intent, or more deeply defined as life energy or even, for some, 'spiritual essence'. With a different kanji () ki can also mean 'skill' or 'deed', so a nice double meaning is present when 'kanzen ki' is spoken.
Shoto has the meaning of 'the sound of the wind through pine trees' or 'pine waves', and was the pen-name Gichin Funakoshi used when writing his classical poetry. Kan means building, and the Shotokan was the name of Sensei Funakoshi's dojo where he taught karate in Tokyo. Sadly, the building was destroyed by fire in a bombing raid during WWII, but the name was used by some of Funakoshi's students when his teachings were synthesised into a uniform style (other students used the name Shotokai, and this became a slightly different style, though also directly from Funakoshi's karate).
Interestingly, sho can also be pronounced matsu, and one of the forefathers of Shotokan (among other styles) was the great Sokon Matsumura ('pine village'), a teacher of both Funakoshi and Itosu. Itosu referred to his style of karate as Shorin Ryu, with Shorin being the Okinawan pronunciation of Shaolin ('little forest').
The kanji for karate mean empty hand - a well-known fact, but the name has an interesting evolution. Originally the fighting art of Okinawa was known merely as 'te' or 'ti' - hand. The Chinese influence on the art turned that into tode (), or Chinese hand, the kanji of which could also be pronounced karate. When Gichin Funakoshi took the art to Japan, he wanted the name to reflect the modernisation of the martial art and to promote its status as a 'do' (way of life), so used kara with its meaning of 'empty'. This mirrored his own views on the benefits of karate, but he always acknowledged the art's Tang origins. It was a clever double definition - the empty-handed, weaponless, fighting art, but also the Zen aspect of emptiness, or as Funakoshi put it:
Sensei Funakoshi was not actually the first to use this meaning of karate, as in 1905 Chomo Hanashiro had used the term in print, whereas Funakoshi was still using 'Chinese hand' as late as 1922 and the first book on karate, Ryukyu Kenpo Toudi.
Benkyokai means study group (ben: exertion, kyou: strong; benkyou: study) - which is what Kanzenki is, as we are all, sensei, senior grades and students, learning and exploring the martial art of karate together.
The 'Tora no Maki'
The symbol above, what is sometimes referred to as the Shotokan Tiger, is the tora no maki, which translates literally as 'tiger of the scroll (book)' or the 'tiger roll'. It is a traditional design that was drawn in this version by the artist Hoan Kusugi (that's his signature by the tail) and used on the cover of Gichin Funakoshi's 1935 book Karate-do Kyohan (Karate, the master instruction). Such a 'master text' could also be called a tora no maki after the rolled up scrolls such works were once written on. Thanks to its use on Funakoshi's most widely available and authoratitive work, it has become the symbol used by many Shotokan and Shotokai groups across the world.
The artist, Hoan Kusugi, didn't just have this tora no maki as his claim to fame. He was also one of Funakoshi's early karate students, and was one of the people who convinced Funakoshi to stay in Japan and to continue introducing the Okinawan fighting art to the mainland. Below are some of Kusugi's drawings from Funakoshi's first book, Ryukyu Kenpo Toudi (1922).