Inducted into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame, Andre Tippet was one of the league’s most feared linebackers. He played his entire career for the New England Patriots. However, he has always considered self himself a martial artist, who just happened to play American Football.
Andre Bernard Tippet was born on 27 December 1959, in Birmingham, Alabama. He was the oldest of six children, having four brothers and a sister. He was brought up by his mother. Unfortunately, his father was not on the scene. The family eventually moved to New Jersey.
Tippet grew up during the Bruce Lee craze of the early 1970s. He also spent time watching classic Kung Fu films, like The Five Fingers of Death.
Tippet had wanted to learn Karate at a local dojo. However, his mother could not afford the $25 a month fees.
At the age of 12, Tippet began learning Bando, a martial art from Myanmar, at a YMCA in East Orange, New Jersey. He studied the style for two years, only stopping because the instructors left the area. Around this time, he also began competing in tournaments in the New York and New Jersey areas.
Growing up poor, and not having any real role models, there were many distractions on the street for a young man like Tippet. However, he found purpose when he joined the dojo of Edward W Bozes Jr and Fred Godfrey in 1973.
Bozes and Godfrey had established Ninja Turtle Karate, an eclectic style of Karate in the 1970s in East Orange, New Jersey. The style was based on Jujitsu and Black Empowerment. They did not charge for lessons. The aim was to take young black men from a life on the streets.
Tippet trained with Bozes until 1978, with Bozes becoming a mentor and father figure to him.
In 1974 Tippet enrolled at Barringer High School, East Orange. Not living in the local area, he had to use a family friend’s address to get into the school.
Barringer High School had a good reputation for academics and sports. Despite having a physical frame for American Football, Tippet’s mother wanted him to become a lawyer.
In 1976, Matsubayashi-Ryu founder, Shoshin Nagamine’s, book, “The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do” was published. Wanting to get a deeper understanding of the Karate he practised, Tippet borrowed a copy of the book from a fellow student. He read the book from cover to cover and kept the book for a year. His eyes were opened to the world of Traditional Karate.
Tippet graduated from high school in 1975. He enrolled at Ellsworth Junior College. The following year he transferred to the University of Iowa.
In 1980 Tippet started competing on the open Karate circuit and at traditional Karate events. He frequently placed in the top three positions. He competed until 1994.
After a successful football career at Iowa, Tippet was drafted into the NFL in 1982. He was picked in the second round of the draft by the New England Patriots. During this period he was still practising Karate. Around this time he began learning Ueichi–Ryu Karate under Steve Banchick.
1985, was a big year for Tippet in his professional football career. He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He helped the New England Patriots reach the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Chicago Bears
Tippet began training in Okinawan Goju-Ryu under Chuck Merriman in 1986. He trained at Merriman’s Connecticut dojo and regarded him as a mentor. Tippet had previously only been interested in kumite. However, Merriman encouraged him to become more interested in all aspects of Karate and to become a well-rounded martial artist. Tippet trained with Merriman for around four years.
On 15 May 1988, Tippet was promoted to 1st Dan. He was also awarded his apprentice instructor certificate.
1989 saw Tippet promoted to 2nd Dan. He also began learning Yammani–Chinen Ryu Kobudo from Toshihiro Oshiro. He specialised in learning the bo and also learned other weapons. He eventually trained under Kiyoshi Nishimi.
Tippet was inducted into the University of Iowa’s Varsity Hall of Fame.
In 1990, while still playing Professional Football in the NFL, Tippet opened a dojo in Stoughton, Massachusetts. Known as the Institute of Traditional Karate-Do, he operated the dojo until 2000.
Tippet was promoted to 3rd Dan in 1991. He also received his full instructor certificate.
By 1991 Tippet had become one of the most dominant players in the NFL. He attributed most of his success to his Karate practice. Bill Belichick, who coached the Cleveland Browns, hired a martial arts expert to coach his players to emulate Tippet.
After a very successful Professional Football career, Tippet retired from the New England Patriots in 1993. That year he married Rhonda Keeney. The following year he was appointed Director of Player Resources by the New England Patriots.
In 1994 the New England Patriots celebrated their 35th Anniversary of their founding. Tippet was selected to the New England Patriots 35th Anniversary Team.
Born a Baptist, Tippet converted to Judaism, the religion of his wife, in 1996. He underwent a ritual conversion under the supervision of Rabbi Rifat Sonsino.
In 1999 Tippet was inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. The following year he was selected to the New England Patriots Team of the Century.
In 2000 Tippet renamed his dojo to Tippet Karate and Kobudo Dojo, which was a private and non-profit dojo. By this time, he was mainly training in Ueichi-Ryu Karate under Steve Banchick.
Tippet was promoted to 5th Dan in 2007. He also received his Shihan (Master Instructor) certificate.
Appointed Executive Director of Community Affairs at New England Patriots, Tippet was inducted into the University of Iowa Hall of Fame on 7 September 2007.
On 2 August 2008, Tippet was inducted into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He became the second New England Patriots player enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
In April 2009 Tippet was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Three years later he was also inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Tippet was promoted to 6th Dan in May 2012. This was followed by a promotion to 7th Dan in Ueichi–Ryu on 13 November 2020.
Tippet’s honours continued on 13 November 2021. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
On 29 April 2023, Tippet was promoted to 3rd Dan in Yammani–Chinen Ryu Kobudo.
Andre Tippet had a Professional Football career, the envy of many players. In his Hall of Fame career he was selected to the Pro Bowl 5 times; selected to All-Pro 5 times; and was named to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team.
However, Tippet has always seen himself as a martial artist first. He continues to be involved in Ueichi-Ryu.
Tippet is married with three daughters and a son.