What, in a gunfight, matters the most?
In the age of the long opinions and short experience in such matters, we live among among experts far and wide. Some will assure you that it is a proper-caliber pistol, or grade-A ammunition, or still the front sight, which is the rock the church is built upon. Undoubtedly some will claim all is for naught if the holster isn't worth a damn. Most of us will concede to one degree or another that training outweighs much of this. The mantra of "You will not rise to the occasion, you'll fall to the level of your training." is certainly solid and true. There are exceptions of course. People can and will surprise you, but don't hang onto hope.
Training, once the show starts, is of grand importance, especially if your experience for contending with bad situations is training and only training. Because in case no one ever tells you, you can lose a fight—a street fight, a gun fight, any fight—no matter how well trained you are. You can get hurt, or worse. This is the reason you hear cover preached so hard by good instructors (note: not all instructors are good). Cover stops bullets. Get it when you can and think about it often. Never, ever, ever be lulled into some stupidly false Hollywood notion that because you have a concealed-carry permit and are the "good guy" that you can not get injured.
I say that because it should give you pause. The element of getting hurt or worse is, in a sense, meant to make you a little more fearful.
"More fearful? Shouldn't I be less fearful?"
If you fully understand the risks you can incur now, the more you will train to prevent them from happening in reality. Because when you encounter a violent person, a shock of fear will run through you. In most cases you are having to react and play catch up, whether the attack is 5 feet or 50 yards away. Maybe it's not "cool" or doesn't come in some swanky tactical color, but fear exists in the real world.
Some years back, while working a protection detail, I was almost gutted like a fish. It didn't happen quite as fast as one would imagine (thankfully), but I can assure you that when you are holding a knife just inches off your stomach, a legitimate wave of fear comes over you. Mind you I said fear. Not panic.
Panic is a cancer. It spreads fast and will kill you. It will kill you in one of two ways. Either you do nothing, or you do randomly stupid actions that are removed from any thought process. Fear, however, you can think through, or more importantly, fight through.
Many instructors don't talk about fear. Some simply out of bravado do not, while others lack any type of experience in real world to realize it's a concern. Mind you, that is not a dig on those instructors, not in the least. There are many fine ones out there who are phenomenal trainers, and there are plenty of men and women who have fought through real world bad men and are horrible trainers.
The predominant thing you should understand is it is not shooting. Shooting is what you do at the range. We are talking about fighting. Fighting, like dancing, involves more than one person. In the case of a fight, we are talking about attackers. I train constantly, and it doesn't always involve the range. I train with my knives, my guns, my fists, my boots and anything around me, and when I train, I make it a point to lose. I lose so I can learn. When I learn how I lost, it helps me problem solve. When I problem solve now, I problem solve in real life. The more problem solving is integrated into my programming, the more likely I am to override any "caught-off-guard fear" a.k.a. the "oh crap!" moment.
What did I do wrong? Where did I get blinded? Was I having too much fun and being too eager to please myself and be "the hero" that I did everything perfect in a pre-orchestrated manner? In the gun culture, we like to make fight predictors, thinking scenarios will look like something we picture in our minds. Never believe you can predict anything about an attacker or what an attack will look like because you went to the pistol range. Instead think "What if?" What if I'm in a crowded, public space and I see a madman with a gun? What will I do? What will the 300 other people do? Will I get trampled if I take a knee and aim?
It is okay in a moment of crisis to be afraid. After a random shooting, a friend wrote me and said "I'm afraid if something like that were to occur while I am there, I'd piss my pants." I told him, "piss your pants and then shoot the bad guy."
There is something else. Should it ever come down to it, be brave. Be brave above anything else. I know: The tactical internet gods will say "REACT! DON'T THINK! REACT!"
I'm telling you to be brave. Be brave because it matters. Be brave because we live among mice who would rather cower than fight and because of that the fight falls to a few. Fight to get home, fight to save your family, or someone else's. You can be afraid. But above everything else, be brave.