Collins Dictionary:
If an event, game, series, or discussion kicks off, or is kicked off, it begins.
The shows kick off on October 24th. [VERB PARTICLE]
The Mayor kicked off the party. [VERB PARTICLE noun]

Macmillan Dictionary:
1. [intransitive/transitive] informal to begin, or to begin something
The show kicks off this week at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco.

I learned from several dictionaries that the phrasal verb “kick off” is both transitive and intransitive. In that case, in the eighth sentence of the following paragraph, do both “kicked off” and “kicking off” sound natural to you, native speakers of English. I mean can I use both expressions interchangeably in the context of the following paragraph?

Although, volunteer positions in Hustai are available year-round, most volunteers choose the spring, summer, and fall months, because winters in the Mongolian steppes are bitterly cold and inhospitable. Perhaps the very best time to visit is July, when herdsmen come from miles around to participate in the three-day Naadam Festival, an ancient and colorful competition of horse racing, archery, and wrestling-once called the "three manly games." The Naadam Festival started a religious event but has evolved into a celebration of Mongolian statehood. The horse race, with thousands of horses competing, takes place not on a track, but over high-altitude Mongolian grassland. The race is a long-distance one, (kicked off/kicking off) with a special song ("Giin-Goo") that all the horses know. The jockeys are children, ages 7 to 12, who wear colorful costumes. The top five winners are celebrated in poetry and song.

  • It kicked off yesterday. It's kicking off this afternoon. – Hot Licks Oct 20 '18 at 11:45
  • @HotLicks "kicked" can be passive and still present or future tense. – Spencer Oct 20 '18 at 14:51
  • I would avoid using "kicked off" for any other sport than one in which the match starts by the kicking of a ball. Certainly, to a British ear, the use for a horse race seems most incongruous. I would look for a simpler English word — "beginning" will do fine. Be very careful with metaphors in languages that you are not master of. – David Nov 19 '18 at 16:20
  • Since the rest of the paragraph is present tense, I would rule out "kicked off" since that is past tense. – GEdgar Apr 13 at 1:17

You can use either, but your choice changes the sentence's meaning slightly. You should choose one or the other based upon what you want to mean.

I'll consider "kicked off" first.

The race is a long-distance one, kicked off with a special song ("Giin-Goo") that all the horses know.

"Kicked" is sometimes the past tense form of "kick", but here it's the passive form. If you want to emphasize the race as being driven by the participants (including organizers, spectators, and musicians), you would use "kicked".

So now, consider "kicking off".

The race is a long-distance one, kicking off with a special song ("Giin-Goo") that all the horses know.

"Kicking" is the progressive or "continuous" form. Here, there's no outside agency driving the action. So, if you want to emphasize the race as a (possibly living, autonomous) thing that drives itself, you should use "kicking".

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  • Thank you for your opinion, but you know in the following sentences that the shows kick off even though they cannot begin without any agencies. I mean that even though the shows need agencies so as to begin, they kick off, not they are kicked off. If an event, game, series, or discussion kicks off, or is kicked off, it begins. The shows kick off on October 24th. I mean the word "kick off" can be used an intransitive verb even if it needs an agency. Could you explain more about this? – Suwon Kim Oct 21 '18 at 8:43
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    @SuwonKim They might technically need agency, but when you use active voice, you choose to de-emphasize that. It's your choice. – Spencer Oct 21 '18 at 9:34

In this sense, consider "kick off" to be (mostly) equivalent to "start". "The race kicks off at noon" = "The race starts at noon". "The shows kick off on Thursday" = "The shows start on Thursday". "The race will be kicking off with a special song" = "The race will be starting with a special song".

Yes, the two terms don't have exactly the same connotation, but they conjugate pretty much the same.

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