Wadoryu karate was founded by the instructor Hironori Otsuka (1892 - 1982). He began training karate in 1922. Prior to this, he trained
judo and kendo at school and learnt Shindo Yoshinryu style jujutsu too. Whilst at university in Tokyo he is thought to have trained in Yoshin Koryu jujutsu. Because of this experience, he had a good
understanding of the characteristics of ancient Japanese fighting systems before beginning his study of Okinawan
He learned karate from Gichin Funakoshi (1862 - 1957), the Okinawan schoolmaster who established Ryukyu kara-te in mainland Japan. Funakoshi began teaching in Tokyo in 1922 and Otsuka Hironori was amongst the first group of students. Later, Otsuka Sensei also trained with Kenwa Mabuni and with Choki Motobu. Funakoshi's kara-te developed into Shotokanryu but Otsuka studied with him before Shotokanryu had evolved into the distinctive style it is today.
Kenwa Mabuni (1889 - 1952) came to Tokyo in 1928 and stayed for nearly a year before he moved to Osaka where he established his Shitoryu karate style. Mabuni Kenwa was known for the huge number of kata he knew and taught and even to this day, the various Shitoryu groups train in upwards of 40 different kata.
Choki Motobu on the other hand was a colourful character in karate history who emphasised training naihanchi shodan kata and pioneered the development of kumite techniques whilst his peers focused mainly on kata training. He lived in Tokyo during the late 1920's and 1930's but returned to Okinawa where he died in 1944. Motobu did not leave a distinct style as the others did, but there is no doubt that he influenced many karate-ka of the period and Otsuka was particularly impressed by him.
Otsuka brought together the skills he learned from these karate instructors and refined them with the principles and some techniques from his earlier training. In April 1934 he established his own group calling it the "Dai Nippon Karate Shinko Kurubu" and then in 1938 renamed it "Dai Nippon Karate-do Shinbukai". In the same year, he and his students gave a demonstration at the Butokusai (martial arts festival) held in Kyoto and at this event he registered with the name "Shinshu Wadoryu Karatejutsu". The following year, Otsuka Hironori and his students participated as "Wadoryu Karatejutsu". In 1940 a large group of his students gave a demonstration at the 44th Butokusai in Kyoto. This was a huge event held over several days to mark the mythical 2600th year of Japan.
Originally, Wadoryu was established in various universities around Tokyo and Yokohama. This helped to popularise the style throughout Japan as the graduates set up dojo around the country after they graduated. Initially these clubs were formed at nine university clubs. Alongside this they held training at a kendo dojo of Yagyuryu style (Kubo dojo) and Otsuka even held training at his house located close to the Dental College. The leading students of the early period were Ueno Jitsuro (Tokyo Univ - Todai), Kihara Shusaburo (Tokyo Agricultural - Nodai) and Hirakawa Goro (St Pauls - Rikkyo). After graduating in 1937, Ueno established a club at Kyoto University which built the connection for Otsuka to participate in the Butokusai events.
Karate training practically ceased in the final years of WWII and restarted when the troops were demobilised and returned to Japan. Training gradually restarted in the period 1946 - 1949. By the 1950s, Otsuka Sensei had rebuilt a strong base of skilled students and instructors led by a small group who had trained prior to 1940. The new generation of students trained under their influence and some of these became instructors who remain active in the teaching and promotion of Wadoryu karate today.
In the 1950's the group name changed again to "Zen Nihon Karate Renmei" but with the formation of the all style federation "All Japan Karatedo Federation" in 1964, they gave up this name and reverted to Wadokai. Since then, this name has been used and the foundation of the style recognised as 1934.